If parliamentary debates were not so mesmerizingly funny, you’d want to cry, writes STUART MURRAY
WE have just returned to Plett from a family visit to Ireland and the UK. Not surprisingly, friends here ask: “What on earth’s going on with Brexit?”
It must be today’s most common question - to which I have the most common answer: “Your guess is as good as mine” (or that of Theresa May, I might suggest).
What is clear, however, is that normally passive Britons are totally gatvol with their Parliamentary representatives - and with the whole democratic process as it bumbles around whether to quit the equally hamstrung European Union.
Concern is the common denominator. What does the future hold in terms of trade, security, currencies, jobs - even travel? No one is sure.
At present the spotlight rests on the outcome of UK-EU arm-wrestling entwined in the Better Deal/Bad Deal/No Deal face-off. All but ignored is the fact that the issues are much wider and far-reaching. There are, for example, 28 member states in the European Union. All of them have concerns about the outcome.
Take the main role-player, Germany. No other country in Europe would suffer more than Germany. And there is more to this than trade.
German leaders, including Angela Merkel, feel that Britain’s exit would raise the spectre of other countries wanting to leave - or at least securing special favours from Brussels to remain. A survey by Ipsos Mori suggested that 55% of French people would like a referendum on the EU, while 48% of Italians would like to quit the Union.
There has been growing criticism of the EU and the euro, mainly from the German right. Similarly in weakened France, where right-wing supporters of Marine Le Pen have been growing more powerful, Brexit could hand Le Pen an important political boost.
According to Britain’s Guardian newspaper, Berlin finds it has more in common with London than any other European capital. Without Britain, Germany would stand alone in Brussels negotiations.
In France, officials have been extremely cautious about Brexit, and few politicians are being drawn on the subject. However, it is common knowledge that the French have long seen Britain as a counterweight to Germany.
Poland is acutely aware of the ramifications of Britain quitting. In the EU political fencing ring, the Poles view a possible London/Warsaw axis as a counterbalance to Berlin and Paris.
But, nearer to home is the fact that some 600,000 Poles work in Britain. Will their rights continue to be observed?
For Italians, too, the biggest threat posed by Brexit is probably that Italians could lose their right to free movement and with it the right to work in Britain - a hedge against unemployment in Italy’s failing economy.
Moreover, there are as many Italians working in Britain as there are Poles. Many Italians, in business and in politics, perceive a domino effect if Britain quits.
Spain is another EU member that does not want Britain to leave. The UK is Spain’s fifth biggest export market and, according to the Spanish Institute for Foreign Trade, more than 200 Spanish companies operate in the UK.
In terms of the Union’s common currency, only 19 EU countries use the euro. Those who don’t include the UK, Denmark, Poland, Hungary, Sweden, and the Czech Republic. Only the UK and Denmark opted never to use it.
So far, the euro has held up well against the US dollar and the slipping pound. But bets are hedged on the currency markets immediately after a British exit.
But what sort of exit?
The International Monetary Fund has warned that Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal would inflict significant economic pain across Europe, leaving the region without any winners. Economic growth across the remaining 27 states could fall by 1.5% by 2030. Economic growth in the UK would drop by twice as much.
A deal seems a distant hope as EU leaders dig in their heels. So will the growing number of “remainers” triumph?
There are two main issues in this respect. One is that there is no constitutional precedent by which to overturn the result of the Brexit vote - and then to hold another.
And what doesn’t yet appear to be a point of debate in amid the Commons uproar is that if the UK decides to remain, how will the EU mandarins react?
Can they, in terms of the EU rules and rights, turn around and demand a price - compensation for the cost of all the dithering, work, concerns, losses (sleepless nights?) caused by the Brexit turmoil?
Who knows? Remain might be just as damaging as a no deal/hard exit would have been. Nothing comes without cost.
• Stuart Murray is a former senior assistant editor of Financial Mail and co-founder, editor, and CEO of Finance Week (firstname.lastname@example.org). He is retired and lives in Plettenberg Bay.