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A 30,000 Foot View of the BREXIT Trend: Should We Stay or Should We Go - or Should We Even Care?

I am writing this from over 30,000 feet (actually 35,001 feet/10,667 meters according to my video map) over the Atlantic Ocean and on my way to Europe. The recent vote of the UK citizenry to leave the European Union (EU) is a hot topic at the moment (what everyone has been calling BREXIT). And I just finished reading yet another article on BREXIT. So I decided to digest some of what I have gathered in an article and here it is.

Taking the title of my article at face value “Should We Stay or Should We Go - or Should We Even Care?”, the answer is definitely “it depends”. It depends a lot on who you mean by “we”. And probably everyone should care because BREXIT lends weight to many of the separatist movements around the world. Whether it is Scotland and the UK, Quebec and Canada, Greece and the EU (also known as GREXIT), or Catalonia and Spain, or elsewhere, separation is in the air. And that causes uncertainty and disruption which affects all of us at some level.

When it comes to international politics I probably know more than most because I am the president of AFT (and we do considerable international business and travel) - but am still really a layman. With that said, I will give a summary of my observations for those of you still reading and with at least a modest amount of interest. To keep it simple I will focus on some background on the EU/UK relationship and then three subtopics: Who voted for BREXIT, what is the likely future of the UK and the European Union, and what it could mean for other regions. I welcome all of your comments, especially those from the UK and EU region.

Background on the EU/UK Relations

Even for Europeans it seems Europe is confusing. And even for UK citizens the UK seems confusing. For an American like myself, and a layman at that, it is no surprise that I find it confusing too.

Europe is a hodgepodge of various relationships. Engineers like diagrams, and one in BusinessWeek magazine (July 4-10 issue) on page 10 is very helpful - albeit a self-described mess of Venn diagrams. See below.

Four Models for Britain's Future


The EU is a common zone of commerce and cooperation. It handles difficult subjects such as immigration from war torn Middle East and North Africa. There is a common currency (the Euro) which not all EU members use. UK in particular never adopted the Euro and has continued to use the British Pound. This in and of itself has made BREXIT a bit easier than if they were using the Euro such as Greece does.

I found out for the first time in recent weeks about the Schengen Area, which overlaps most of the EU countries and some non-EU countries such as Switzerland. It basically allows for common handling of international visitation and visa entries with no internal border controls. The UK is not part of the Shengen Area either.

On this trip to Europe I will be visiting four countries all in the Schengen Area, one of which is not in the EU. I checked beforehand just to make sure there would be no visa issues upon entry.

Who voted for BREXIT?

Apparently there was limited support for BREXIT in London, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The areas outside London but within England were what pushed the BREXIT vote to 52% in favor.

From yet another article in BusinessWeek:

This liberal Britain didn’t always work out well. Overreliance on finance meant we were especially exposed to the crunch in 2008. Even if in practice we were good at dealing with immigrants, there was still grumbling about foreigners, whether poor ones taking council houses or rich ones buying up Chelsea. We’ve been schizophrenic toward the European Union: We liked the single market but hated its tangle of regulation. 

Yet this love-hate relationship has served Britain very well. The fact that we were at the free-market end of a sclerotic union increased our relative attractiveness. London has become the commercial capital of Europe and its talent magnet. Britain’s soft power has not been greater for decades.

What went wrong? The obvious rejoinder is liberal Britain worked a lot better for some Britons than for others. That is true. Many Brexiters also felt that they had been lied to repeatedly about immigration. Others see the EU as a doomed project—and think we are best out of it. Add in shameless political opportunism, a Euroskeptic press that told voters there was no cost to voting Leave, and polls that showed Remain was in the lead (so a protest vote was just that), and you get to 52 percent of the electorate.

What is the likely future of the UK and the European Union?

The UK is the world’s fifth biggest economy and represents 15-20% of the EU economy. So the EU just shrank from the economic loss of UK and its 60+ million citizens. The UK may now well be facing its own issues with Scotland’s sentiment that it would rather be in the EU – and possibly will try again to separate from the UK in the process. BREXIT gives Scotland yet one more reason to vote for independence.

Apparently there is strong sentiment in Italy to leave the EU and in France as well. Greece has been struggling with the prospect of an EU exit for the last two years.

What BREXIT could mean for other regions…

Here in the USA, the BREXIT vote gives strength to isolationist-like rhetoric from presidential candidate Donald Trump. My personal opinion is that isolationism is not in the best interest of the USA as a whole even though it may provide a simple answer to complex questions that arise when certain US jobs are lost to international entities.


Time will tell whether the UK made a mistake by voting to exit the EU. Like most things it is likely to have a mix of positive and negative outcomes for the British. The speakers at an economics conference I attended a few weeks ago (on the day of the BREXIT vote) believed that a BREXIT would be a net positive for the UK even though they predicted it would not pass that day.

Separatism and isolationism is in the air. Certainly in Europe and the USA. I fear that if the trend continues that, while the separatists may feel better, the end result will make the world a more isolated, dangerous and less prosperous place.

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