Emily Skarbek  

A few thoughts in the immediate aftermath of Brexit

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The results of the referendum are in and the UK has voted to leave the European Union. The official campaign was littered with awful arguments that play to the public's worst sentiments - and the decision was likely driven by ignorance and the older voting population. As a foreigner in the country and someone who believes passionately in free trade, open immigration, and the principles of a free society - I am nervous.

The markets have slid and there is uncertainty over what this will mean for the future of the UK and Europe. David Cameron has resigned. No one knows just how this is going to play out. The longer horizon will depend on the course that is chartered in policy negotiations and positions adopted by the UK.

Many of the people I have discussed this with in academic and policy circles want a freer, more open society. This led some to vote remain and others leave, based on divergent predictions about which course of action would lead to a more open society. I take this as one reason for optimism amidst the fear.

The aftermath of this vote will require a broader coalition of liberals to push for an open trade and immigration policy. Trade policy that is crafted in the next few years will be crucial to the economic impact of Brexit. Britain desperately needs policy entrepreneurs, City of London, and leaders in Parliament to craft a solution that maximises openness to counter the populist, nationalist, and collectivist sentiments that may have got us here. It is hard to see this now, having just voted to leave the EU single market.

As my friend Sam Bowman points out, the biggest reason London is a great city is due to immigration. We want more of that, not less - from Europe and everywhere else. The voices for free trade must be louder than ever.

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Twitter: Emily Skarbek @EmilySkarbek

COMMENTS (15 to date)
Pedro writes:

Whether Brexit is good or bad in the long run is very difficult to predict. I wait in anticipation to see how it pens out.

What is immensely worrying though is that the campaign behind Brexit - a campaign based on 90% xenophobia and 10% of other types of demagoguery - had the approval of more than half of the voters. No amount of independence will suddenly make this horrible monster suddenly go away.

I was not allowed to vote (the UK is an interesting case of taxation without representation) but even if I had had the right to vote I would not have done it simply because I would not have been able to support either campaign.

Mayukh writes:

UK to EU was like the Liver to Human Body.

Metaphorically speaking,

The impure blood would now flow through the whole body, which liver was supposed to purify, and the body will die eventually.

On the other hand, the liver, if still functional, would be acquired/auctioned for needy acceptor, involving an exchange of astronomical fortune.

Robert Thorpe writes:

It's worth remembering Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon treaty. In that case the government called another referendum and got a yes the second time. The same thing could happen here.

John Alcorn writes:

The Brexit vote exhibits another troubling pattern, in addition to the anti-immigration backlash noted by Emily Skarbek & Sam Bowman: The older generation has overruled the clear wishes of the younger generation, who have a greater (long-term) stake in the outcome.

Matthew Moore writes:

It's the right decision likely made for the wrong reasons.

Weir writes:

It's not enough to believe in free trade, immigration, the open society. You ought to argue in support of these things. That means winning the voters over to our side, and persuading them to get on board. Or is the EU a way of getting around the voters?

Apparently so, since the voters are too ignorant and too old. So we should dissolve the people and elect another?

Either that, or campaign within Britain to win these policy victories within Britain. Win elections inside Britain. Win the argument with the British electorate, even if your first preference is to simply impose the open society from outside, via supranational government. To force people to be free.

Weir writes:

I've already quoted Brecht and Rousseau, but I'll quote Karl Popper too, since he explicitly argued against unaccountable, undemocratic government. The enemies of the open society were all for this idea of allowing the politicians to carry on without interference from the electorate. But Popper himself wanted the voters to have their say.

"Any government that can be removed has a strong incentive to act in a way that makes people content with it. And this incentive is lost if the government cannot be so easily ousted." That's the author of The Open Society And Its Enemies.

The alternative is to act in defiance of the voters, and Britain's already had twenty years of that, ever since the functioning economic union was replaced with this failing, faltering, political union.

Alan writes:

"...free trade, open immigration, and the principles of a free society." are worthy goals. The EU is not a free and open society, it's a massive welfare state. Open immigration into a welfare state causes an inevitable economic collapse.

I'm all for open borders and free markets but you can't have those with a welfare state and expect to survive.

TSB writes:

From a perspective outside the EU, UK EU membership increased trade and immigration barriers. Given that most of the world is outside Europe (and admittedly ignoring possible corrections for gravity) leaving the EU may decrease net trade barriers and increase net freedom of movement. I have little doubt about the UK's continuing commitment to free trade (especially relative to the EU average opinion) and expect it to maintain all the sensible arrangements with Europe while also being free to negotiate new agreements outside Europe.

I don't see why the older voting population should be disparaged when they may be best qualified to make such decisions. Younger Britons particularly have no personal experience of the UK outside of the EU.

Jeff R. writes:
As my friend Sam Bowman points out, the biggest reason London is a great city is due to immigration.

London was a pretty great city in the 18th century, capital of the British Empire, as it was. How did your friend arrive at his conclusion that its present greatness is due mainly to immigration? How did he determine that, say, the industrial revolution wasn't the bigger factor?

steve writes:

open immigration means what? any number of people at any time ? The perception of the foregoing is why the vote was to leave; an overwhelming emotional feeling on the part of the citizenship

Cliff writes:

If a sane immigration policy is proposed involving selecting, from the enormous number of potential immigrants, those best qualified and most productive, I imagine the leave voters will have little problem with it. On the other hand, City of London may not be happy- do they want dynamic competition, or low-wage servants to mow their lawns and the like?

William Peddlesden writes:

if Canada were presented with an EU type structure with all the countries from Panama north with a governing body in USA, I would vote no. We can all understand the problems with that arrangement. I think that is what the residents of the UK considered.

Carl writes:
the biggest reason London is a great city is due to immigration.

There you have it, folks. A perfect distillation of the hallucinatory world our elites inhabit. This is why Leave won, and it's likely that Emily will never, ever understand.

nomenym writes:

The elites have been stoking this fire for a long time. They've allowed too much immigration without enough integration. Since the 90s, this peasants revolt has been growing, but largely unrepresented at the level of national politics. They've been dismissed as rubes and racists for decades, and have mostly felt disenfranchised while the elites plowed ahead with their projects of globalisation and multiculturalism.

Now the chickens are coming home to roost, and I say this as someone who is not especially pleased about the prospect (except for the satisfaction of saying 'I told you so.') If the elites had been more sympathetic, less condescending, less dismissive, and less willing to flush their cultural heritage down the toilet, then this, and other similar political developments, would probably not be happening.

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