9 min read

Brexit and the Price of Opportunity

I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time, but I never got around to it because my thoughts weren’t aligned, and the momentum just wasn’t there. However, it is now. Brexit, it refers to the ‘British exit’ from the European Union. On June 23rd, 2016, a day I remember well, the referendum was held, and 51.9% of voters chose to leave the EU. I was not one of them. I voted to remain, not because I was pro-EU and what they stand for, but because I didn’t understand what leaving meant, and I was against a lot of rhetoric on the leave side (including some thinly veiled xenophobia).

Back in 1972, the UK was facing economic challenges, including slow growth, high inflation, and high unemployment. To promote economic growth, strengthen trade relationships, and improve political cooperation with other European countries, the UK signed the Accession Treaty to join the European Economic Community (EEC), now the European Union (EU). It was seen as a major milestone in the UK's foreign and economic policy.

Fast-forward four decades later to 2012, when the first rumblings of a referendum to leave the EU began, with then-Prime Minister David Cameron rejecting the idea. Three years later, in 2015, during the general election campaign, David Cameron, in a bid to secure the vote, made the promise to hold a referendum on EU membership if the Conservative Party won. Well, victory was achieved, and, in a rare occurrence for politics, that promise was kept.

After announcing the referendum to decide on whether to leave or remain in the EU, campaigns on both sides of the argument were launched.

The Remain campaign argued that staying in the EU would maintain economic stability and security. They claimed that leaving the EU would threaten jobs and businesses, and that the UK would lose access to the EU's single market. The campaign emphasised the benefits of the free movement of people, goods, and services within the EU. They also highlighted the UK's ability to influence EU policies and decisions as a member, which they said was important for the country's interests. Finally, the Remain campaign argued that leaving the EU would result in a loss of influence and power on the global stage, and that the UK would be better off remaining in the EU.

On the other hand, the Leave campaign argued that leaving the EU would allow the UK to take back control of its laws, borders, and economy. They claimed that the EU was undemocratic and that leaving would restore sovereignty to the UK. The campaign emphasised the financial cost of EU membership and argued that leaving would save money, which could be used to fund public services. They also argued that leaving the EU would enable the UK to negotiate better trade deals with non-EU countries, which would boost the economy. Finally, the Leave campaign emphasised the need to reduce immigration and control the UK's borders, which they said was not possible while the UK remained in the EU. They believed that leaving the EU was necessary for the UK to regain control over its affairs and become a more independent nation.

The conversation was muddied with deception and lies, which ultimately divided and confused people. The most infamous example was on the leave side — "We send the EU £350 million a week – let's fund our NHS instead" a slogan plastered on the side of a campaign bus. This was wildly misleading, this figure was a gross amount, failing to account for the UK's rebate or the funds that the EU directed back to the UK. Another controversial point was around immigration and border-control, this lead to an outpouring of xenophobic rhetoric. "Send them home". People who have been born and bred in the UK had that sentiment thrown at them. This, of course, wasn't from all Brexiteers nor even most of them, but a loud repugnant minority (ironic?).

After the vote took place and the results were in, things felt different. There was a time before and after. Nothing had changed, but everything had. The sense of division, the unveiling of a disturbing undercurrent of xenophobia, and the uncertainty about the future. We were still technically in the EU and would be for years. But due to the air of bigotry, it felt like the ugly face of the country was unveiled. I distinctly remember walking to the bus stop on my way to work that day and receiving a stern look from an elderly woman. Furthermore, my friend, now wife, who emigrated from Bulgaria, messaging me with words to the effect "what now?". Immigrants had no idea of their place or security. It was a weird time.

Nothing changed in the short term, which made the whole hoo-ha leading up to the vote seems unnecessary. We were still in the EU until January 31st, 2020. After years of negotiations, the UK and the EU reached a withdrawal agreement, which was ratified by both parties. The UK then entered a transition period, during which it continued to follow EU rules and regulations while negotiations on a future relationship between the two sides. The transition period ended on December 31, 2020, and the UK is now considered a third country in relation to the EU.

You could say that Brexit was not just a political act, but a societal shift.

Post-Brexit life in the UK has been marked by a many challenges, including the pandemic, a dramatic rise in the cost of living, inflation, and the energy crisis. These issues have been compounded by decades of poor planning and policy decisions, which have left us ill-equipped to deal with the current challenges. Just one example of this is energy, we have little to no infrastructure to supply our energy needs. The full impact of Brexit on the economy and society is still unclear because the pandemic has skewed the effects or potentially exacerbated them. Overall, post-Brexit life has been challenging, with many people struggling to make ends meet and uncertainty about the future.

Time to inject some optimism into this slice of reality pie and talk about a potential future. With newfound independence, the country is free to control its destiny, and there should be a sense of pride and optimism amongst us citizens. We all need to come together to make this work. However, independence also means that the UK is free to fail, and there are no guarantees of success.

Despite the possibility of failure, the UK has many strengths that can help us navigate to a positive outcome. A strong economy, yes I know it has been weakened over recent years, and we’ve been surpassed by India in GDP, but it’s still relatively strong. A skilled workforce, and a rich history of innovation and entrepreneurship, the country could be well-positioned to thrive in a post-Brexit world. It's time to transform our "rich history" into a thriving present. Furthermore, we have allies and partners around the world who are willing to work with us to achieve common goals, which many, myself included, were skeptical about pre-Brexit.

It's time to transform our "rich history" into a thriving present.

One of the positive outcomes of Brexit is the potential for increased trade and economic growth. The UK can now negotiate its trade deals with countries around the world, opening up new markets and opportunities for businesses. This is already happening, we’ve landed a deal with Japan. The UK-Japan Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) is a free trade agreement that came into force at the beginning of 2021. CEPA eliminates tariffs on 99% of goods traded between the UK and Japan, and the government estimates that CEPA will boost trade between the two by £15.2 billion. It is also expected to create up to 15,000 jobs in the UK.

We’re no longer bound by the bureaucratic regulations of the EU, and we can now make our own decisions based on the needs and wants of our people. This newfound freedom should allow for a more democratic and transparent government, where decisions are made with the best interests of the people in mind.

The EU's enactment of sometimes crazy, often ludicrous and potentially dangerous policies is no longer a direct concern for the UK. The country can now focus on its priorities and values, without being forced to comply with regulations that may not align with its beliefs.

The UK's decision to leave the European Union may have caused short-term uncertainty, but it also presents opportunities for the country to forge new trade relationships and strengthen its position in the global market. With commitment to renewable energy and sustainability, the UK could attract businesses and investors looking for environmentally responsible solutions. With a skilled workforce, a strong education system, and a history of innovation, the UK has the potential to emerge as a top player in the changing world order.

In conclusion, Brexit, the UK's decision to leave the EU, marked a significant turning point in the country's history and has unleashed a wave of economic, social, and political consequences.

The challenges ahead are substantial, this cannot be understated. From navigating a world economy without the safety net of the EU to healing the societal divisions that the referendum brought to the fore.

It is crucial now, more than ever, that we come together as a nation to face these challenges head-on. With optimism, resilience, and a commitment to democratic principles, we can utilise the freedom granted by Brexit to build a more prosperous and inclusive future. It is our responsibility to ensure that the decision to leave the EU, regardless of one's position on the matter, leads to a UK that is stronger, more united, and globally competitive. Only time will tell if the cost of Brexit was a price worth paying.

Read another write

2022 in review