Brexit reflections

The excellent Quartz daily brief newsletter opened with a few reflections on the Brexit this morning.

There are good reasons to leave a marriage—constant conflict, deep differences, a deranged partner. There are also less good ones—conversation’s a bit dull, the sex isn’t great, or you have the same thing for breakfast every morning.

British voters just called it quits on their 43-year-long marriage with the EU. The 52% who voted “leave” may have believed they did so over deep-seated and long-held grievances with the status quo: They were on average older and poorer (paywall) than the population at large. Yet their poverty was long-entrenched, not necessarily connected with growing economic inequality or foreigners taking jobs, and the regions that voted to leave were those that most depend on trade with the EU. Dull, passionless, and repetitive it may have been, but theirs was a boring marriage, not a bad one.

The Brexit campaign made a simple but alluring appeal to them: “Take back control.” And it worked. But some Britons are already realizing the grass isn’t magically greener. More than 80 pro-Brexit parliamentarians urged pro-EU prime minister David Cameron to stay in his job for stability’s sake; he promptly resigned. The “leave” campaign suggested that divorce proceedings with the EU needn’t be too hasty, but Brussels isn’t in the mood for delays. As the pound tanks and stocks tremble, it’s getting harder for the Brexit camp to maintain the claim that warnings of an economic wipeout were anelaborate EU plot to bully British voters.

Even nationalist leader Nigel Farage admitted one of his side’s key campaign pledges—to redirect funds from the EU budget to the national health service—was “a mistake.” And though Boris Johnson, the face of the Brexit campaign and now frontrunner for prime minister, rebuked those such as Farage “who play politics with immigration,” the “leave” campaign played plenty of that politics itself, and Johnson may find it hard to put that genie back in the bottle.

Divorce can be thrilling, but in the cold light of the morning after, freedom isn’t always such fun. When you “take back control,” there’s nobody left to blame when things go wrong.—Jason Karaian

My 3 notes –

1. I found the speed with which the “Leave” campaign acknowledged that one of its key pledges was a “mistake” amazing. Politics is a different kind of beast.

2. I am a big believer in the power of incentives. It has been apparent for a while that David Cameron would resign if the “Leave” campaign won. It is interesting that the poster child of that campaign – ex-London mayor Boris Johnson – is the expected next Prime Minister in that event. Incentives drive behavior. And, egoistical behavior is typically indicative of bad decision making.

3. At the end of the day, however, the buck stops with everyone who voted. Google’s reports of post-vote searches for consequences of a “No” vote is both sad and scary all at once. Box CEO Aaron Levie had a pithy tweet in response to this as a takeaway for the elections in the US in November – “Before you’re allowed to vote in November, you should be required to watch videos of British people regretting the way they voted in Brexit.”

Damn right.

Understandably, there’s a lot of grief among the younger generation in the UK. A poignant comment left on the Financial Times website yesterday summed their emotions up beautifully.


The question the comment ends with – “But can anybody tell me the last time a prevailing culture of anti-intellectualism has lead to anything other than bigotry?” is incredibly powerful..