British voters, particularly those in England and Wales, voted to destroy their economic present and future for presumed benefits that began vanishing mere hours after the vote.
An actual departure from the European Union will still take a few years to fully negotiate. However, in no particular order, the likely consequences are:
The British Economy is toast: Before the vote had been completed last night, the pound had fallen to its lowest level against the US dollar since 1985. This will cause UK exports to become cheaper but imports to be more expensive, sparking inflation. The problem is that most of the UKs exports are manufactured goods that can easily be made elsewhere and no one knows what kind of trade deals the UK will be able to make on its own, without the EU. Many companies and countries will steer clear of the UK due to instability. Foreign (and many domestic) investors are unlikely to pour money into a newly isolationist and xenophobic England and European companies will begin to pull back from England or pull out altogether. Add to that the lost talent as skilled European scientists, engineers and business people go elsewhere, along with much of Britain's top young talent.
Government spending will have to increase: The days of austerity are over. This will be good news for many Britons but it will also have consequences and it will not be as good as people hope. Within an hour of the Brexit vote results coming in, Nigel Farage admitted that the promised £350m for the National Health Service isn't coming. What he did not admit was the Brexit camp's math on the EU was almost completely wrong. In 2015, the UK paid £6.5 billion more than it got back directly from the EU. That comes to £18 million per day or a little less than £10 per week, per Briton. Even that however does not include the less tangible cultural and economic benefits of being part of the EU. Now, due to inflation, rising unemployment and a likely increase in demand for services, the British government will have to pay more money for the NHS and other government programs merely to maintain current levels of service. That will require substantial tax increases and/or substantial government debt which will further devalue the pound.
Scotland will probably leave the UK. Scots voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. In the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, one of the chief arguments for staying in the UK was EU membership. Now Scotland will have to choose between the UK and the EU. The only real argument an economically depressed UK will be able to make is an appeal to tradition, nationalism and loyalty. From a historical perspective (not to mention an economic one) all of those arguments will ring hollow.
No one is coming to the rescue: No one is likely to take pity on England over a problem of their own making, on the contrary there will be many in the EU, the United States and elsewhere who will want to use England's experience as a cautionary tale about what happens when countries vote for isolationism and xenophobia. That means that they have an interest in watching England struggle. Among the pro-Brexit forces there has been a nostalgia for the old days of the Commonwealth and a hope that it will be part of the economic future. However, I suspect that England will find that many former British colonies do not share their nostalgia. They will certainly find that Commonwealth countries have not sat idle waiting for a return of Britain. All of those countries now have economic plans, interests and international agreements of their own. England (minus Scotland) will essentially be treated the same as any other country of 60 million people with a struggling economy and few natural resources. Deals can and will be struck but England will not be in the driver's seat or able to dictate terms.
England's sovereignty is in danger: The driving argument behind the Brexit was British sovereignty. Isolationist forces felt that Britain would be better off making its own decisions without European influence or control. Unfortunately, in a global marketplace, that may not be what they get. England must now strike its own trade deals with Europe, North America, Asia and other countries and, as mentioned above, they are not making those deals from a position of strength. By itself England is a less desirable trading partner than it was as part of the EU. That will mean making concessions that they don't really want to. If, for example, England wants to trade with Europe they will have to meet the same regulatory requirements that they did as part of the EU. Everyone else will have their own requirements for trade but the idea that England can now do as it pleases was a fairy tale from the start. England voted for and got total sovereignty but they have essentially transitioned from being able to order from a limited menu at a high end restaurant to being able to order anything they like at McDonalds.
In short, England appears to be on its way to an economic and political standing that is in line with other former colonial powers like Spain and Portugal. So, why would Britons voluntarily do this to themselves?
The answer, as the headline to this piece suggests, is roughly analogous to a hedonistic weekend bender, consequences be damned. Many Britons (roughly 17 million) were high on misdirected anger and general ignorance. Today they are waking up to the hangover, and the dire consequences of their actions and they are starting to ask questions.
"What is the EU?" is the second top UK question on the EU since the #EURefResults were officially announced pic.twitter.com/1q4VAX3qcm— GoogleTrends (@GoogleTrends) June 24, 2016
So, maybe Mr. Churchill was right. Maybe democracy is the best, worst option. Maybe the people of England knew the consequences and decided that their distaste for Europe warranted the high price they will pay for separation ... or maybe, on this one occasion, a little less democracy would have served them better.
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