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Friday, July 1, 2016

The Beginning of the End? Nicolas Sarkozy's Plan.

I am normally an optimist but following the unexpected result of the UK referendum to leave the EU by 52% to 48%, I am really struggling to see much upside.

The immediate fallout is obvious as anyone can see by the state of UK politics: the PM and leader of the opposition have all but gone and we will have no effective leadership for some time to come, with another general election expected within a year. Another clear message is the value of Sterling which is at a 30 year low against the US dollar, although the stock exchanges have largely bounced back. More worrying is the significant increase in racial hatred since a small minority of brain dead idiots who voted Leave now think that immigrants are fair targets. This is not the UK I have known and loved for over 50 years. We have now undone much of the good work the government has succeeded in delivering since the greatest recession of our time. The results are obvious, had been predicted and are in many ways catastrophic. 

There are many many reasons that influenced the 52% to vote the way that they did but there are three that stand out for me as being the main ones.

First, there are the older people, who despite being protected financially by this government and getting better financial / pension treatment (the 'triple lock protection') than any other segment of this size, still dream of a better yesterday; a world where life was simpler, the world wasn’t moving online and where the local shops provided social interaction and solutions and weren't boarded up; where the UK was a force to be reckoned with globally and the blue British passport carried prestige and weight. This segment of the population (mainly over 65s) voted Leave more than any other age group. And as we all live longer, their numbers have increased significantly; and then there is the fact they are more likely to vote than younger people (who still can’t vote online). 

Secondly, there is a large disaffected working class who have seen their factory jobs decline in post industrial Britain, who are not well enough educated to move into better paid service sector jobs and end up with minimum wage jobs wherever they can find them. The recession and the government’s austerity programme has not been kind to them and although most of them do have jobs, they see only a bleak future where immigrants come in and 'take' their council houses and keep wages low. These people voted for change, despite the fact that they don’t understand the EU and what it does, and they voted against the Westminster establishment, preferring outsiders like UKIP or Corbyn, although ironically the Corbyn supporters have probably killed him off by voting Leave.

The final significant element for me was the low turnout amongst the young, 75% of whom wanted to stay in the EU but many of whom failed to express this sentiment at the ballot box. Why? In part, I think, because we have not changed the way we vote to keep up with the modern world (in the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum, 16 year olds could vote); the results could have been very different if young people had been able to vote using their smartphones and via Facebook or equivalent. But at the end of the day, the people have spoken (or at least those who could be bothered to get off their backsides have spoken) and we must deliver what they have requested. 

The enormous challenge we are now faced with is how to exit the EU and cause the minimum amount of damage to our economy, our country and our global reputation. And this is the largest challenge the country has faced since WW2. Can we preserve the Union or is the breakup of the UK now inevitable? Have we unintentionally triggered Leave votes in other EU countries, leading to its demise? How are we going to preserve our standards of living? Is this the beginning of the end for the UK and the EU?

Whatever happens, there is going to be a long period of uncertainty. Current EU law will remain unchanged in the UK until after article 50 has been invoked and a minimum two year re-negotiation period elapsed. How many people and businesses will pack up and leave or not come in the first place during this elongated period?

A ray of optimism was generated by President Nicolas Sarkozy who convened an emergency post Brexit referendum meeting in London to try to reassure the large French community that all is not lost, and of course canvass their support in the forthcoming presidential elections. Sarkozy, who is a very eloquent and entertaining speaker, had his audience transfixed for over an hour as he laid out his plan for a reformed EU with tighter borders, freedom of movement without free access to benefits, focus on key issues with everything else going back to national governments, no more expansion, and a few other policies, all of which made eminent sense! His spoke very warmly of the British people and the incredibly strong bond between our two nations and his passionate desire to get the UK back into a reformed EU. He reminded the audience that things today would have been different if the British had not come to their rescue in WW2. If only he could be the UK's new Prime Minister! The French expat community are clearly worried, many having lived here for decades. One of them explained how his children had come home from school in tears asking if this meant they would have to leave and return to Paris. Sarkozy picked up on this point and said, as much as he loved London, was Paris really that bad? He then answered his own question by saying that under Fran├žois Hollande, perhaps it really is that bad! I will apply for French Nationality if things in the UK start to get bad.

We were ushered to the VIP seats at the front!

“My chances of being PM are about as good as the chances of finding Elvis on Mars, or my being reincarnated as an olive.”    Boris Johnson - 2004

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