continental drift

Brexit: Britain’s Middle Finger to the World

Vote Leave Party As They Wait For The EU Referendum Results
Photo: Jack Taylor/Getty Images

Britain has voted to leave the European Union.

Emotion has triumphed over reason. Nationalism has triumphed over integration. The boomers have screwed over the young. David Cameron has screwed over millions of people. And Britain has delivered a severe economic blow not just to itself, but also to the European Union and the world.

Economically, it feels like 2008. The elites got it profoundly, profoundly wrong. The markets are plummeting, with the pound cratering, American bonds surging, and stocks swooning. The dollar has strengthened more than it has on any single day since 1978.

The only reassuring thing to say about it is that the market turbulence will pass. The United States should be relatively well-insulated from the economic effects, particularly since the Fed will surely delay any rate hikes. The drop in the pound will offset some of the economic pain for Britain. But in many ways, this is even worse than it looks.

After Brexit, let’s hope, comes Bremorse.

Remorse because this means that a group of economically disadvantaged people have voted for a policy that will further economically disadvantage them. The most trade-dependent and least resilient parts of the United Kingdom’s economy are likely going to bear the brunt of the pain. The country will end up poorer — how much poorer, who knows, but the numbers will be in the many, many billions.

Remorse because financing the National Health Service is going to get harder, not easier. There will be less growth, meaning less income, meaning less tax revenue, for one. That £350 million a week the Leave side promised would be redirected from Brussels to British hospitals was always a lie, for two. There might also be fewer immigrants, for three — and a full quarter of Britain’s doctors are not British. The health service relies on foreign labor — foreign labor Little England has decided to raise a middle finger to. Without non-British staff, “Many N.H.S. services would struggle to provide effective care to their patients,” the British Medical Association has warned.

Remorse because this might trigger shock waves of disunion — this was never just about Britain, but also about Europe and the world. Scotland looks likely to leave the United Kingdom; Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first leader, has described it as “democratically unacceptable” for the country to be forced to leave the European Union against its will. Northern Ireland might change its political affiliation. I would not be surprised if Greece, Spain, and Portugal contemplated shrugging Europe off too. The post-war unification project is dead.

Remorse because David Cameron called this vote as a cynical ploy to garner his party an electoral advantage. (Fun fact: The disintegration of Europe was set into motion at a pizza joint in O’Hare Airport.) Now this guy might become prime minister: “This does not mean the United Kingdom will be any less united,” Boris Johnson, former mayor of London and one of the leading proponents of Brexit, said today. “Nor does it mean it will be less European.” Yet, that is precisely what it means.

Remorse because it looks like the United Kingdom really will have to leave, and perhaps quickly. Johnson has said there is “no haste” to start the process of disunion. Europe isn’t having it. “Exit negotiations should be concluded within two years at max. There cannot be any special treatment. Leave means leave,” said one German politician, with all of Brussels stressing that for the benefit of the continent, the United Kingdom should go as soon as possible.

Remorse because the Leave campaigners are already backtracking on their promises. Remorse because Britain’s young voted to remain, and will be forced to live with leaving. Remorse because white folks are disadvantaging people of color. Remorse because this will not restore Great Britain to some illusory greatness.

And remorse because 17 million Britons have hurt so many more across the globe.

Brexit: Britain’s Middle Finger to the World