English Tantrum Will Have Uncertain Consequences

The British people, actually white working-class English voters, made a truly reckless decision yesterday in voting to have the United Kingdom sever its relations with the European Union. I say “reckless” because they have no idea what kind of consequences the decision will have, for them or for anyone else, and they were absolutely heedless of the warnings they received from a political and economic elite that they no longer trust. Things may turn out for the best, eventually, but it won’t be because this was a well-considered move. It was a giant middle finger and a roll of the dice.

Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation in the morning, although he will remain until the fall in order to allow for an orderly transition. Forty-eight percent of Britons agreed with Cameron that the U.K. should remain in the E.U., so as disappointing as the vote was, it still split the nation down the middle.

Northern Ireland wanted to stay and doesn’t want a closed border with Ireland. They may seek to leave the U.K. and create one big unified mutli-denominamional island. Scotland will once again have a referendum on independence, and this time I expect that it will succeed, since most Scots want to remain in the E.U. Only Wales and England voted to leave, and even then it wasn’t the urban multicultural centers that rejected Europe.

For the English “leave” voters pining for the simpler ethnically homogeneous days of the British Empire, they probably just assured that England will be smaller and less imperial than ever.

Former London mayor Boris Johnson is the current favorite in the British press to succeed David Cameron as the leader of the Tories. Many people are comparing him to Trump and they have similarities, although Johnson has been critical of Trump’s anti-Muslim proposals.

Where they sound alike is on the issue of immigration and national sovereignty. Here’s Johnson talking in early June:

U.K. Chancellor George Osborne, who is campaigning alongside Cameron to remain in the EU, has warned of an economic shock and long-term economic costs if the U.K. voted to opt out.

Johnson, however, argued that nobody can possibly say what will what would happen as a result of a so-called Brexit.

“I think that over time the U.K. economy would get a lot of dynamism from the removal of so much of the regulation and the inappropriate law that holds us back.” Johnson told CNBC.

“It’s making it impossible for us to do all sorts of things that you’d expect a country to be able to do, like control our borders, control our tax rates, help our energy companies, all sorts of things.”

Not that there isn’t a case to be made against Brussels and their rule-making, but that’s largely been a smokescreen for a backlash against immigration. What’s most reminiscent of Trump is the way that Johnson is willing to propose radically disruptive policies without much caring about the risks involved.

Once it was clear how the vote had come out, the British Pound collapsed immediately, currency traders started going nuts, and there was a rush on U.S. Treasuries and gold. Foreign stock markets cratered, and the U.S. stock market took a sharp nosedive (as of this writing, the DJIA is down ▼ 470.92 (2.61%). U.S. mortgage rates are a short-term beneficiary, but we’re in uncharted territory.

Untangling Britain’s economic and legal links to the E.U. will be a nightmare, and it must be carried out by the same elites who almost uniformly did not want to go this route.

There’s a lot of speculation that something similar could happen here in America in our presidential election. But giving the American people a few months to witness the shitstorm created by this right-wing tantrum in England probably makes that less likely than ever.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly and the main blogger at Booman Tribune.