Scott Gilmore: Keep calm and carry on

Brexit is an ugly mess, no doubt, but here are four reasons why peace and prosperity will likely prevail

A presiding officer (L) and poll clerk (C) drink a cup of tea while waiting for early morning voters at a polling station set up in a launderette in Headington outside Oxford on June 23, 2016. Millions of Britons began voting today in a bitterly-fought, knife-edge referendum that could tear up the island nation's EU membership and spark the greatest emergency of the bloc's 60-year history. (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

A presiding officer (L) and poll clerk (C) drink a cup of tea while waiting for early morning voters at a polling station set up in a launderette in Headington outside Oxford on June 23, 2016. Millions of Britons began voting today in a bitterly-fought, knife-edge referendum that could tear up the island nation’s EU membership and spark the greatest emergency of the bloc’s 60-year history. (ADRIAN DENNIS/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

I’m not the type of person who stays up all night waiting for election or referendum results. My philosophy is this: one way or another, tomorrow will reveal itself, so there’s no point in losing sleep over it.

And, so it was Thursday night. After a late dinner, there were worried reports the British may have chosen to leave the European Union. The vote was razor close, and given how much was on the line, it seemed like much of the world was staying up to watch the results, tense and disbelieving.

Regardless, I went to bed, and slept well. But not because I was indifferent. I am a passionate supporter of the European experiment. The EU, in my eyes, has always represented man’s better instincts. Nations, who had fought and killed each other since Caesar conquered Gaul, built a new type of society that transcended borders and bigotry and gave the continent the longest stretch of peace it has ever known. When I woke, the results left me shocked and saddened. Putin was gloating, Le Pen was celebrating, the markets were crashing, and every story brought more bad news and more worries.

Britain’s departure from the European Union is an ugly mess that will change and diminish so much. But, it is not the end of the world.

First, we still don’t even know what Brexit means. The range of possible outcomes is very wide. It was revealed this morning that the German contingency plan includes negotiating an “association agreement” with the United Kingdom to keep the economies linked. The current Schengen Treaty which abolishes border checkpoints between European nations already includes non-EU members like Iceland. As does the EU Customs Union, which eliminates any tariffs on goods. It is possible to imagine a Brexit future which is not noticeably different from what we have now.

Second, consider Norway and Switzerland. Most non-Europeans are surprised to learn they have never been members of the European Union. They, however, have negotiated a series of treaties giving them most of the benefits while avoiding many of the problems. Like London is now, Zurich and Oslo are prosperous, dynamic, cosmopolitan European cities. Brexit does not mean this has to change.

Third, it is impossible to truly separate in the 21st century. Inside and outside the European Union, countries and people have never been closer, never been so integrated. We now travel constantly. The number of intra-European airline routes has more then tripled since 1992. The constant movement of people between Britain and the EU will continue. Social media, which did not even exist 15 years ago, now means a joke in Manchester makes it to Marseille in minutes. This will not change. And a globalized economy, not a Brussels bureaucrat, will ensure a British marmalade maker will continue to label his jars in Italian and Spanish and half a dozen other European languages.

Finally, remember that British voters under the age of 50 overwhelmingly chose to remain in the European Union. The referendum results were directly correlated to age. The older generations voted to leave, the younger wanted to stay. And, guess what? The Brexit generations are dying off, there are fewer of them every day. Even better, the youth who supported the European Union today will be in charge tomorrow. If Britain can leave, it can also rejoin. And in a very few short years, this demographic change, combined with the inevitable realization that Nigel and Boris made promises they couldn’t keep, will ensure that Britain’s place in Europe will be debated again.

The news coverage over the next few weeks, and possibly years, will doubtlessly be alarming. The spectre of the United Kingdom collapsing, or the European Union dissolving will inevitably haunt us. But the daily news has always been alarming, and we have always been haunted. And yet, here we are. It’s 2016. Brits and Europeans are living longer than they ever have, they are wealthier than they have ever been, and the continent is more peaceful than it ever was. And this isn’t going to change soon. No one knows what the Brexit vote will mean, but tomorrow will ultimately reveal itself, and there’s no point in losing sleep over it.


Scott Gilmore: Keep calm and carry on

  1. I was in second year economics when the Charlottetown accord vote was happening. My economics prof at the time – one of only two profs I had throughout university who was worth listening to – advised us to ignore the warnings of economic calamity (due to potential Quebec separstion) when we went to vote. He did not tell us to vote one way or the other, or even tell us how he would vote. But he did warn us to never confuse political events with economic ones. The economy is made up of millions of individuals, firms, cities, and countries, and the relationships between all those players simply do not dissolve overnight due to political events (short of war that is).

    It was a lesson I never forgot. Politicians, policymakers and pundits alike ALWAYS overestimate the importance of “policy”, whether simple tax changes or monumental political or Constitutional upheavals. The economy is what happens in spite of politics, not because of it.

    The UK traded with Europe and the world long before the EU existed, and will continue to do so. Those trading and commerce relationships will not suddenly disappear. Some volatility and even a recession is to be expected. But the world is not ending the market will adapt a lot quicker than we think.

    • I agree that this is about economics, nothing else. Our antiquated corporate operating system isn’t working for most people, and the digital age has pushed the system into extremis. We have no option but to rethink a set of rules that only benefit the one percent. These rules were written 700 years ago, when the Corporation was invented with the express intent to keep those pesky peasants in their place. Read Douglas Rushkoff, he explains it well.

  2. Scott claims to be a Conservative, but I can’t recall ever reading a single conservative ideal espoused by him. Now we discover that he is in favour of a big government Europe that is ruled by unelected elites from Brussels and is anti-British sovereignty. Is it too much to ask that Maclean’s resident conservative be, you know, actually conservative? There are literally a dozen articles on this site telling us that Brexit is bad for everyone, where’s the counter point? 17 million people voted in favour of leaving and Maclean’s basic take on it is that these people are old, uneducated, and racist. How leftist of you Scott.

    • David Cameron is a conservative, and he staked his career on the Remain side. Margaret Thatcher was forced out by pro-Euro Tories, including some of her formerly staunchest ideological allies. Conservatives have never been immune to Euro-seduction. They are every bit as susceptible to it as the left. That’s why the referendum needed to happen. Left wing or right, the establishment parties were pro-euro. Fortunately, there were just enough Thatcherites in the Tories to do an end run around their own party’s official policy, and force Cameron to promise a referendum during the last election. The citizens of Great Britain did the rest.

  3. Obviously, economies (everywhere) will suffer for a short while and that appears to be the focus of discussion, but we would do well to ask about the silent ‘elephant in the room’ that, in my view, also caused this Brexit. I am talking about the frequently used word immigration. In my view, general immigration is definitely not the problem … no country can survive without immigration. The related word that is too often publicly avoided is ‘Islamophobia’ (together with Sharia laws).

    PS; Islamists are not a race of people, therefore, using the word Islamophobia is not a racist remark.

  4. All valid points, with the exception of the differences in age groups. Yes the older voters voted to leave and the younger voters did not, and while older voters will die, remember young voters became older voters over time. At some point those younger voters will realize that the positives from the EU (such as access to more economies etc,.) outweigh the negatives (such as losing control to bureaucrats in Brussels and that whatever is decided in the British parliament gets overturned in the EU).

    So the gloom and doom that is being projected by many in the MSM will unlikely happen (stock markets and exchange rates go up and down and surprisingly few of the pundits can actually explain why). I suspect what will happen is that the bureaucrats in the EU will double down on stupid and alienate more people in the other EU countries and the whole idea will go down in flames.

  5. Younger voters were overwhelmingly in favour of Remain. And only 1/3 of under-25s bothered to vote. This is why youth are ignored. All of us were complete idiots until the age of 40. Myself included. Wanna see someone who will never grow up? Find someone who thinks the same at age 25 as they do at age 45. If you can’t look back ten years and admit to yourself, “My God I was such a clueless bleeping idiot back then,” then you’re a clueless idiot now. And the process shouldn’t stop at age 40 either. I’m mid-40s. I sincerely hope that in my mid-50s, I will look back upon myself today and think,” Holy crap I was dumb.” If not, that means I stopped learning at age 45. What a shame.

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