Brexit will be suicidal for UK economy

The final decision will be a defining one, deciding what UK fundamentally is.

 |  7-minute read |   25-02-2016
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So the campaign in Britain has begun to decide whether this island nation will remain a part of the European Union, or reclaim its sovereign identity and chance its luck alone on the vast unpredictable waters of the global market.

On June 23, Brits will vote in a referendum, following the hard-won deal Prime Minister David Cameron wrung from his European counterparts last week. Britain will decide if it can live with the offer - with its limited reclaiming of powers over immigration and welfare, and protection for London as an international financial centre - or leave the Union altogether.

Cameron has declared the deal is final and not open to renegotiation. Hence the referendum will be a defining one, deciding what Britain fundamentally is: a sovereign independent nation, or merely a region within an economic union with extremely constrained autonomy. And this moment of existential crisis will end, in true British fashion, not with a bang but a whimper.

The vote is a foregone conclusion. The arguments of those advocating a British exit (BREXIT) are plainly idiotic, and the British electorate isn't stupid. Polls give the BREXIT-walas a tiny lead at present, but with up to a third of voters yet to declare their intention, it's obvious that the Brits will do as they always do when presented with an option for radical fundamental change: they will side heavily with the status quo - as the Scots did during the equally nonsensical referendum they held on whether to secede from the UK.

Cameron will trot over the finish line a clear winner, and the pointless hysteria of the preceding months will be recognised for what it is: the last national spasm of post-imperial senility, before the delusion of British exceptionalism is laid to rest forever.

David Cameron is a courageous epochal politician: Britain is so lucky to have him. He is this country's first post-imperial Prime Minister: a leader unburdened by the mythology of Britain's past greatness and the urge to rekindle it. He is the first prime minister to boldly embrace this country's mediocrity, and the dull mundanity of the destiny before it. As such, he has spared his country untold suffering, steering it away from the abyss that its enduring chauvinism could so easily have lead it into.

He understands, as an intelligent politician should, the realities of power, and how absurd the very notion of British sovereignty is. Britain is a very small country with very limited resources - as such its sovereignty is wholly dependent on the goodwill of other much bigger powers. It is, as Goldfinger remarks to 007, "not in a position to be making demands, Mr Bond."

Britain's army and navy are barely fit for basic national defence, let alone power projection. Yes, it has nuclear weapons - but so what? If another greater power encroaches on its interests, what will Britain do - nuke them?

Even a limited exchange would turn this tiny island into an unpopulated pile of broken stone and warped glass - a bit like Nek Chand's Rock Garden in Chandigarh - that would no doubt become an attraction for day-trippers from the continent. Mao always regarded the atom bomb as a paper tiger: in Britain's case, it most certainly is. I can think of no reason for why it's buying a new stock of Trident missiles, at the cost of £30 billion, other than it's been ordered to by the USA - that biggest and most autonomous of powers, who build and sell the weapons and almost certainly have the final say on whether the things can actually be launched.

The military case for the non-existence of British sovereignty might be clear enough, but the economic one is even starker. Almost 20 percent of the population is over 65 years old, a third of all its people are clinically obese, its literacy and numeracy rank among the lowest in the developed world, household debt stands at £1.5 trillion, and the ratio of government debt to GDP is over 90 per cent. This is the astoundingly shitty hand that the BREXIT-walas think they can play at the winner-takes-all card-game of global capitalism. Yes, they are really that stupid.

Britain has been insulated from reality by the European Union. Being enmeshed within a highly protectionist, collective economy of over 500 million people that has the highest GDP - both gross and per person - in the world, has massively cushioned the UK from the hard truths of its underlying vulnerability. If Britain left, every one of its myriad weaknesses would be exposed and ruthlessly exploited by the many stronger competitors it would have to face alone.

The BREXIT-walas think Britain is a caged lion, restrained by the EU from unleashing its unique dynamic genius on the world. In truth, it is an old and spoilt, heavily overweight house-cat that would quickly be torn to shreds in the jungle of the global free-market. It is very fortunate to be in the position it is currently in - safe and stable, and relatively prosperous - and it would be an unprecedented act of national suicide for it to risk that.

Britain's prosperity has always relied on it being protected from the free market. During colonial times, it had an immensely privileged position within the matrix of its empire. Indians remember how they were paid a pittance to grow the cotton that was then shipped to the UK to be turned into finished goods that were then exported back to India at immense profit - while Indian industry was deliberately undermined to negate the threat of competition.

Similarly, the UK is today in a hugely privileged position as a member of the EU, safe within the walls of tariffs and other barriers that protect it from the competition of the outside world.

BREXIT-walas complain that immigration from the EU is depressing wages and living standards for the British proletariat, whining that immigrants are prepared to live six-to-a-room as they work for low pay. Indeed, it is the British working-class who are most against remaining in the EU. The irony that these dullards cannot fathom is that should Britain leave the EU, their wages and living standards would crash to levels comparable with the developing world's, as they're forced to compete, unprotected, against the low-cost economies of India and China. The EU is the only thing that saves the British masses from Bangladeshi-style sweat-shops and sleeping under tarpaulin in squatter camps.

David Cameron will win at a canter simply by couching his campaign to stay in the EU in the language of risk versus safety. He will point out to the electorate that they are part of a functioning system that provides them with a decent, if declining, standard of living, while the BREXIT-walas have nothing to offer as an alternative. Not a single deal has been offered by a foreign government for doing business with a UK that is outside the EU - indeed, India, China and the USA have all openly stated that their trade with Britain is dependent on its EU membership.

It is amusing to witness the post-imperial dementia of the BREXIT-walas. The half-witted claims they make are hilarious, steeped in a nostalgia for a Britain that long gone. They make wild declarations about the talent-pool in Britain, and the scientific and technological advancements they will make once they've been unshackled from Europe. They seem oblivious to the fact that other countries have talent too, and that much bigger countries have bigger pools of talent. With 20 times the population, India has at least 20 times as many talented people as Britain does - given the emphasis of Indian culture on education and excellence, probably much more - who are sharpened to an even finer edge by their massive internal competition.

This ocean of talent is why India could land Mangalyaan, its space probe, accurately and fully functioning on Mars at the first attempt, at a lower cost per kilometre than a cycle-rickshaw in Amritsar. In contrast, 12 years ago, Britain blasted its own probe aimlessly into the void, losing all contact with it almost immediately. Can British technicians really compete on their own in the world? Of course not.

It hurts the Brits to know that they're not a great people anymore, a fact made very apparent by the rules the EU forces them to abide by. But they have, very sensibly, traded their sovereignty for security and stability: a deal that they will vote to make permanent. They will, of course, complain vehemently, because complaining remains the one thing the British truly do excel at, but then they will relax into the comfort of their EU-sustained ordinariness, and finally set aside their defunct notions of independent glory and accept their place in the world as a very lucky people who've always ridden their luck - and continue to do so.

Writer

Nirpal Dhaliwal Nirpal Dhaliwal @nirpaldhaliwal

He is a British journalist and writer.

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