Tuesday, May 21, 2024
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Big yourself up, Britain!


ACRES of newspaper articles, infinite tweets and hours of breathless television breaking news have been devoted to Brexit. Coverage has centred almost exclusively around Britain’s incompetence and humiliation. For a supposedly Protestant country, self-flagellation seems to be an oddly British phenomenon amongst the political class. I am writing this article not to talk about the problems of Brexit, but rather to remind you of the many positives Britain has going for it.

It might be surprising to say but Britain is remarkably politically stable. Brexit is a foundational question that goes behind a pure policy and looks at the very political structure of the country. There have been ugly scenes outside Parliament but the various marches have been quite peaceful.

By contrast France, under the pro-EU ‘Jupiterian’ liberal President Emmanuel Macron, has experienced street riots for months. Originally a protest against fuel tax, the gilets jaunes movement has mutated into a broad-based protest against an ‘arrogant’ President and political class.

I bring this up as a reminder that there are no weekly riots in the streets of London. Parliamentary debate is an ugly process but it is a uniquely British process. Britain has a weak executive and a strong legislature compared with more centralised countries such as the French Fifth Republic. Wishing that parliament should be purely compliant or purely rebellious allows imbalances to build up in the political system – resulting in eruptions.

I hear people complaining about how Britain is ‘perceived’ in the world. This sounds like an anxiety-ridden teenager yearning to be popular with the ‘cool kids’, who in this instance are Merkel, Macron and the opinion writers of the New York Times, the Guardian, Der Spiegel and Le Monde. Perceptions change over time with the benefit of hindsight; it makes no sense to base your view of Brexit today on what today’s opinion writers are saying. History is the ultimate judge of events.

To put it a different way, if people are upset that Macron ‘humiliates’ Britain and that he talks directly to the ‘citizens of Europe’, don’t forget that this guy can’t even walk down the streets of his own capital city without causing a riot. His approval rating has rebounded to a massive . . . 32 per cent. Would you really listen to an alcoholic discuss the benefits of drinking?

Then there are those who talk about the risks to the British economy and how being out of the single market would ‘devastate’ the British economy. If the single market were the be-all and end-all of economics, Italy, Greece and Spain would be basking in the economic (as well as literal) sun. No, success or failure is more due to domestic policies than being part of the Single Market (or Single Exchange Rate). Britain’s terrible economy in the early 1970s, when it begged for entry into the Common Market, was purely for domestic reasons, as Britain’s respective strengths today are still based on domestic reasons.

Britain has a lot going for it, partly due to design and partly to luck. We speak English, the language of international commerce. We have the common law system and English law contracts are regularly sought by companies because of this system. We have some of the best universities in the world, and are certainly the European leader in venture capital investing.

The world is changing, and change is not being driven by Europe: it is bypassing Europe. Technological innovation is just starting: AI, robotics, automated manufacturing, agritech will affect jobs and opportunities for decades to come. Europe can erect as many barriers as they like to prevent the changes from coming into force but are locking themselves out of opportunities for European companies to benefit. If Britain wants to, it can be the primary driver and beneficiary of these changes, but there must be the desire to be at the leading edge of this fourth industrial revolution.

Despite all its advantages, Britain still has this bizarrely self-defeating behaviour that is indulged in by the professional political class. If we want Britain to succeed, we need both the desire and a realistic means of achieving it. Geographically Britain remains part of Europe; that does not mean it needs to be part of the EU Regulatory State. The status quo is over and opportunity beckons – it’s a pity that the ruling class doesn’t get that.

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Stephen Gibbons
Stephen Gibbons
Stephen Gibbons is a pseudonym. The writer works in investment banking.

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