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Brexit: Why Is Everyone So Surprised?
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Financial markets are notorious for irrational mood swings. But even by past standards, the recent wild gyrations in both stocks and currencies seem to have set a new record for ludicrousness.

The source of the panic has, of course, been the United Kingdom’s referendum vote last week to pull out of the European Union.

The first thing to note is that markets should have been prepared for the outcome. After all, in the last weeks of the campaign, opinion polls indicated that the two sides were running neck and neck. It was a fair bet moreover that prospective Leave voters were being systematically undercounted. After all, as they had long been portrayed as ignoramuses, xenophobes, and even outright racists by the London establishment, many of them undoubtedly felt cowed into keeping their true opinions from the pollsters. In the circumstances, financial traders would have been prudent to maintain balanced books going into the vote. Judging by the post-vote gyrations, which extended even to oil and other commodities, most traders seem to have been badly blindsided.

Yet not only was a Leave vote foreseeable but some of us foresaw it. Even as early as 2013, it was pretty obvious that in offering a referendum the UK’s pro-EU Prime Minister David Cameron was tempting fate. In a commentary at Forbes in February of that year, I wrote:

British exasperation with the EU has the potential to shake the latter-day world order. A symptom of the strains is that the UK’s pro-EU Prime Minister, David Cameron, has felt obliged to promise the British electorate a straight in-out referendum on British membership of the EU. Cameron probably doesn’t realize it yet but he may just have touched off a geopolitical avalanche. Certainly his referendum is a destabilizing – if in my view highly welcome – move at a time when the world economic order has rarely seemed more precarious. That order is founded on an overtly anti-democratic commitment to globalism on the part of the foreign policy elites of the UK and United States. Yet globalism is not working and the evidence of its failure mounts daily.

I returned to the subject several times, not least in a commentary in May 2014 whose heading – Suddenly The EU’s Break-Up Has Moved From A Long Shot To A Probability – said it all. Analyzing local election results that testified to a strong anti-EU undertow, I wrote:

Although British voters have for decades wanted out of the European Union, that possibility has hitherto been expertly forestalled by a less-than-democratic left-right alliance of London-based elites. Now suddenly all bets are off. In local council elections yesterday, England’s long-suffering grass-roots voters finally rose up. They snubbed both main parties, the Conservatives and Labor, to support the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP)….. Yesterday’s vote…. seems likely to trigger a chain-reaction in which it becomes impossible for the London elites any longer to hold out Canute-like against the democratic will.

It is now abundantly clear to even his most committed supporters that Cameron proved too clever by half. His agenda in offering the referendum was merely the parochial one of buying short-term peace among feuding factions in his Conservative party. Although the party’s right wing had long wanted out of the EU, he evidently calculated that with the help of the opposition Labor party he could pull off an easy victory for the Remain camp.

What he did not understand was that he was living in a bubble. He is a globalist in a London where almost all “respectable” opinion is globalist. The globalist fashion has been long been propagated by the City, as the London financial district is known. As City types tend to pay themselves well (despite the fact that their money management services are often of mediocre or even questionable quality), they elicit considerable misplaced obeisance from the more naïve of their neighbors in London’s better residential districts.

So much so that even the higher reaches of the Labor party have long been globalist. In the circumstances therefore it was probably easy for Cameron to forget that countless ordinary Labor voters not only have never shared this mindset but had long ago come to the view that the UK’s entry into the EU in 1973 was the first step towards a globalist future that has proved disastrous for the UK’s once world-leading manufacturing industries. His relative youth (he is not yet 50) moreover may have blinded him to the fact that older voters remember a time when, in many categories, British manufacturers led the world. In shipbuilding, for instance, British yards accounted for around half of all the world’s output in the first fifteen years after World War II. Even more to the point, older Britons remember when it was the UK, not Germany, still less Japan, that built the best small cars. In fact in the 1950s, the UK was the world’s largest auto exporter.

In such once-booming, but now long depressed, industrial cities as Manchester, Newcastle, Sheffield, Birmingham, and Swansea, the sense of alienation has been palpable since as far back as the 1980s. While in general elections disaffected Labor voters may have had nowhere to go but the party they have always supported, the referendum finally gave them a chance to second-guess the Labor leadership – and they took it.

At the end of the day, few in the British establishment have emerged unscathed from the last week. Cameron has already, with a commendable sense of honor, fallen on his sword. His finance minister George Osborne, who up to the referendum had been seen as Cameron’s most likely successor, has not resigned but will probably face a long spell in the political wilderness once Cameron’s successor is chosen.


A related question is what will happen to the Bank of England’s governor Mark Carney. As I pointed out last week, he crossed a line in coming out so vigorously in support of the Remain camp. His efforts to calm markets in the wake of the vote, however, have met with general media approval and seem to have proved of real value. The betting is he will survive to fight another day.

Eamonn Fingleton is the author of In Praise of Hard Industries: Why Manufacturing, Not the Information Economy, is the Key to Future Prosperity (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1999).

• Category: Economics • Tags: Brexit, Britain 
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  1. As a long term critic of financialisation and globalism, your columns are nearly always informative and interesting.
    If only your native Ireland had sensible people like you in government rather than the present Euro-globalist Nomenklatura.

    • Replies: @whatever
  2. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I understand manufacturing is your issue, but it was obviously immigration more than manufacturing that drove the Leave vote.

  3. Philip Owen [AKA "Soarintothesky"] says:

    The Lord Ashcroft post election poll (a big one by a political specialist) showed than Immigration was the main issue for only 38% of the Leave voters. Most voted on one or other sovereignty issue.

  4. fallen on his sword

    Speaking fees and corporate board stipends will ensure that the sword never gets close to Cameron’s flesh.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
    , @RadicalCenter
  5. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    its time to bring out the Guillotine for the globalists

    • Agree: woodNfish
  6. Wally says: • Website
    @Philip Owen

    As if public statements in exit polls are reliable, especially about such a topic.

    I suggest:

  7. @Philip Owen

    That might be true but we can’t know it from a poll, even an anonymous one. People simply aren’t going to speak honestly about this.

    • Replies: @animalogic
  8. @Anonymous

    “it was obviously immigration more than manufacturing”

    But the loss of manufacturing and the associated well-paid employment is still a factor. See this Guardian piece. I’m glad the author noted my favourite indicator of de-industrialisation – the hand car wash. 30 years back the only people who had their cars washed by hand were the wealthy and the ‘concourse-finish’ enthusiasts.

    “Stafford, Cannock, Wolverhampton. Different towns, same message: “There’s no decent work”; “the politicians don’t care about us”; “we’ve been forgotten”; “betrayed”; “there’s too many immigrants, and we can’t compete with the wages they’ll work for”. Nobody used the word humiliation, but that’s the sense I got.

    In Wolverhampton, the Express and Star newspaper was reporting on the fury from Wolves fans at the football club’s new shirt sponsor. It was to be the Money Shop, a payday lender. In Walsall, where I went to college, I walked around a town centre unrecognisable from 30 years earlier. Everywhere there were betting shops, dozens of them, and right next door to every betting shop was a pawnbroker or payday lender. It was a ghoulish form of mutualism, or symbiosis, the “natural” market at its most efficient.

    I walked on. Birmingham glittered, a skyline of cranes and high streets of fashionable shops, a confidence, a bounce. But out of the city centre the familiar motifs returned: boarded up pubs and shuttered shops, leave posters in windows, and a proliferation of hand car washes. It began to make sense why these have blossomed in modern Britain: why invest in expensive automated machinery when labour can be sourced so cheaply.”

  9. 22pp22 says:
    @Philip Owen

    Come on. If people were really honest with pollsters, then the Bremainers would now be celebrating victory.

  10. 5371 says:
    @Philip Owen

    Yes, the sovereignty that means being able to control a country’s borders. You have a real genius for stupidity on any subject. Are you sure you aren’t Bill Kristol?

  11. @Anonymous

    A reply to Anonymous:

    You write that it “was obviously immigration more than manufacturing that drove the Leave vote.” That is certainly how the matter was reported but a “unified field” theory of what went on would suggest that lost jobs and high immigration were two sides of the same coin and both contributed powerfully to the underlying anti-establishment mood in depressed industrial areas. It is worth remembering that in the 1960s when the UK experienced massive immigration from the Indian sub-continent, there was little discontent among ordinary workers. It was probably not a coincidence that the economy was booming and unemployment ran lower than probably at any time before or since.

  12. Tom Welsh says:

    The main reason I voted to Leave the EU was not immigration; it was the result of a careful study of the EU’s power structure and leadership. Also the realization that the EU was deliberately set up to exclude democracy as far as possible. The British constitution does a fairly good job of neutering democracy, through its various filters such as first-past-the-post voting and the party system. These ensure that, whatever the people as a whole may want, the government they “elect” will not be committed to doing it and will probably be careful not to do it.

    This was made glaringly obvious this year when the British electorate voted to Leave the EU, although the government which it had “elected” last year was (and still is) strongly committed to Remaining. We now have a constitutional crisis (although the powerful are being careful not to admit the fact), because it is so obvious that the “democratically elected” government does not want to do something that the referendum has revealed to be the people’s strong wish.

    Even an immediate general election (which will not happen, for legal reasons) would do nothing to resolve the situation – because, just as in 2015, the voters have no mechanism for electing a government that is committed to Leave. Basically each voter has a choice between voting Conservative, voting Labour, or wasting his or her vote. Last year over 5 million people (out of 30.6 million who cast their votes) voted for UKIP candidates, and they got one single MP out of 650! (Whereas, proportionally, they should have got about 100 MPs). So voting for Conservative or Labour means voting for a party which, in power, would choose to Remain; and voting for UKIP, the only party committed to Leave, is futile.

    However the EU power structure makes the UK’s system look like direct democracy! Leaders are nominated by national governments, and the “parliament” is a rubber stamp – it cannot originate legislation, just approve or reject it. Rather like the British House of Lords, in fact. None of which is in the least surprising, since it is well known that the EU was deliberately designed to be “democracy proof”. See, for example,

    • Replies: @RadicalCenter
    , @animalogic
  13. @Anonymous

    Immigration no doubt played a part, but as Mr. Fingleton points out, probably not as significant as the smelite (smelly elite) would have us rubes believe. This is from another good article on the subject.

    “But eventually, the old regime gave way. There emerged Greenspan’s dot-com and housing bubbles, the rise of the ECB and the financial rulers of Brussels, the massive bailouts triggered by the global crisis of 2008-2009, the hideous expansion of central bank balance sheets during the era of QE and ZIRP, the emergence of the destructive “whatever it takes” regime of Draghi and the current financial lunacy of subzero interest rates across much of the planet.

    But here’s the thing. The rubes are on to the rig.”

  14. “Even as early as 2013, it was pretty obvious that in offering a referendum the UK’s pro-EU Prime Minister David Cameron was tempting fate.”

    Having promised it, doing it sooner probably seemed the wisest choice because another summer of 1m+ migrants pouring into the EU would have doomed any referendum later in the year or 2017. The safest course for Remain would actually have been to hold no referendum and take the hit for being a typical lying politicians. To Cameron’s credit, he has not hemmed and hawed about the result when he could very easily have buried Brexit in a whole series of parliamentary manoeuvres.

    “He is a globalist in a London where almost all “respectable” opinion is globalist.”

    I told an analyst at a “respectable” British financial institution at the beginning of last week that I thought Brexit would be positive for the UK and negative for the EU and got a look like I was coming from Mars. They really do drink the Kool-Aid.

    • Replies: @helena
    , @Fredrik
  15. helena says:
    @The Alarmist

    On Sky News yesterday – Kay’s programme around lunchtime – there was an American-accented financial reporter.

    She said the gloom was nonsense and gave many reasons why, one being that investors trust the UK ballot box – i.e. trust that political problems can be sorted out, and another being that the picture of the queen on £notes is a symbol of stability.

    I missed her name and job title. She had vibrant orange long straight hair and looked ‘Scots-Irishish’. Probably in her thrities.

    Have you any idea who she was?

    • Replies: @The Alarmist
  16. LondonBob says:

    Carney will be moved on as soon as can be done without upsetting the markets. An event with City bigwigs yesterday said that the City will actually be unaffected, even without passporting, a few jobs moved to Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris but opportunities to pursue with the RoW.

    Expect the very talented Andrea Leadsom to be the next PM. Strongest Leave candidate and will beat charisma free Theresa May with the Conservative Party membership.

  17. I was not surprised for a much more lowbrow reason – the track “Auf Wiedersehen Mate” by Welsh rappers Goldie Lookin Chain. It described a failed relationship that there’s no good reason to drag out any longer, and also mocked the “we’ll lose all economic ties with the continent” scare tactics by pretending there will be no more Ikeas or BMWs in Britain. I assumed it’s a good reflection of public sentiment.

    • Replies: @Anonymous Nephew
  18. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Apparently, the yields on gilts – UK government bonds – are the lowest ever recorded in history – this happened days after brexit.
    Now, UK government bonds have existed for a very very long time, three centuries at the very least. The lowest yield in history really is a milestone.
    The upshot is that foreign investors are more than confident about the prospects of a post EU Britain.
    If the doomers and gloomers and those much vaunted ‘experts’ were right with their tidings of doom, apocalypse and collapse then, surely, we would be witnessing massive capital flight, precipitate jacking up of interest rates etc etc just like on ‘black Wednesday’ when sterling crashed out of the ERM.

    • Replies: @The Alarmist
  19. @Cattle Guard

    “I assumed it’s a good reflection of public sentiment.”

    Public sentiment is divided.

    The educated middle classes are apoplectic that the proles have revolted, although naturally they don’t put it in those terms. My well-off in-laws, who live in one of the whitest parts of the UK, are furious about the “racist vote”of the people who are actually living alongside immigrants.

    @anon – another reason for low bond yields is that everyone else has low rates as well. If the US ever raises rates, the UK might have to follow. I wouldn’t say its a question more confidence, more of being one of the least ugly in the beauty pageant.

    • Replies: @Philip Owen
  20. @Eamonn Fingleton

    Mr Fingleton is letting his memory interfere with the actualite, if one can paraphrase the late Alan Clarke. While Industrial Production went up from a yearly rate of 2.18% in 1951-8 to 3.52% in 1959-68 ( P S Johnson, The Structure of British Industry, 1980 ), this was poor by Western European, North American and Japanese standards. The economy was hardly booming.
    Full employment ended in 1966 or 1968 – depending on your definition – ( James Bartholomew, The Welfare State We’re In, 2004 ). Unemployment DID NOT run lower than at time before or since. Full employment was a feature for most of the late Victorian period and into the early years of the the 20th Century. Historically low levels of unemployment occurred in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Full employment struggled into the 1960s, during which it expired and has never returned.
    What must be remembered is that in the 1960s the number of non-whites in Britain was still very low. Immigration may have been massive by pre-war standards, but not by today’s. If you avoided certain areas of London, Birmingham or Manchester, you might rarely see a non-white.
    Such immigrants as did surface usually were recruited to fill some post, eg nursing, and were in employment.
    Only a few prescient minds like Mr Powell could see the threat. It was the continued non-white immigration in the 1970s onwards to the present day that causes the serious difficulties we have to deal with. If non-white immigration had been stopped or drastically reduced at the end of the 1960s, the problem would have been contained by now.
    Above all, in the 1960s, most voters from their mid-thirties onwards had lived through World War II. They still trusted, by and large, the mainstream politicians. This factor on it’s own was to be their undoing. Harold Wilson, James Callaghan, Margaret Thatcher did not stop immigration and indeed let things slide further.
    As Mr Fingleton has said himself, he has spent most of his adult life in Japan and is married to a Japanese lady. His grasp of economics is excellent, but his knowledge of some aspects of occidental history leaves something to be desired.

  21. @helena

    On Sky News yesterday – Kay’s programme around lunchtime – there was an American-accented financial reporter.

    I missed her name and job title. She had vibrant orange long straight hair and looked ‘Scots-Irishish’. Probably in her thrities.

    Have you any idea who she was?”

    Sorry, no idea. An American reporter who talks sense about Brexit … now that would have been worth watching.

  22. @Anonymous

    “The upshot is that foreign investors are more than confident about the prospects of a post EU Britain.”

    Don’t mean to shatter any illusions, but if anything it shows that foreign investors (most likely from the Continent) have more confidence in the UK as a flight to quality than most of what they can get abroad, and it is likely that local investors like pension funds are joining in the fray by loading up on Gilts and Index-linked Gilts to hedge their rates and inflation exposures with money they pulled from foreign equities.

  23. utu says:

    All what we hear about Brexit are dissimulations that hide the real cause, the cause hidden from the voters who were temporarily allowed to express their preference for British nationalism, anti-immigration sentiments, etc. etc. The Anglo-American establishment decided to pull the plug from the EU project because it became a bastion of anti-neoliberal policies. Germany keeps getting stronger and stronger; maintains its own industrial base; is the 2nd largest exporter; keeps collecting brownie points among leftist for being the most liberal, immigrant friendly, and pacifist country in the world. UK could not undermine EU from within so it was decided that it will be fought from without. So, we are back to 1930’s: Anglo-America and Banksters against Germany. This time however Russia and France are not on the British side and the conflict is not existential for the Jews, so Germany might have a chance, particularly if it manages to follow Bismarck’s insight: “The secret of politics? Make a good treaty with Russia.”

    • Replies: @Jacques Sheete
  24. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    I can remember a time – this was in south London in the late 1960s – in which the milk would on occasions not be delivered on the doorstep for days on end.

    Apparently the dairy could not get hold of a milkman ‘for love nor money’.
    Believe it or not, this type of scenario was absolutely typical in the London of the late sixties.

  25. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Eamonn Fingleton

    That’s not true. More than 70% of Britons agreed with Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968, and in the early 70s, immigration from Commonwealth countries was reduced. The post year 2000 immigration wave, deliberately engineered by Blair and the Labour party, completely swamps previous migration.

  26. @Philip Owen

    So, at 38%, probably it was the issue that the most voters cited as their number one issue, right?

    And I’ll bet that if voters were asked about second issue, immigration is right there for a lot more of them, as well.

    Immigration IS a sovereignty issue.

    • Replies: @Philip Owen
  27. @landlubber

    Tie Cameron up and drop him in an all-Muslim neighborhood, then see how close “the sword gets to his flesh.” Perhaps literally.

    Do the same with Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton, please.

  28. @Tom Welsh

    Umm, so, vote for UKIP then.

    • Replies: @Tom Welsh
  29. Sean says:

    The British people are completely helpless in the face of non European immigration, so don’t waste your time. The Brexit referendum risk by Cameron was taken in the belief that anti racist machinery would protect the system as it had since the sixties while immigrant labour came in at an unprecedented rate, but these were east European Christians and too directly in competition, and it didn’t wash.

    Britain is very unusual among advanced countries in having experienced significant loss of productive capacity according to Economics:The User’s Guide: A Pelican Introduction. Thatcher was responsible for the lion’s share of that deindustrialization, as Ian Gilmour showed.

    The jobs that are left are the ones that can’t be outsourced: agriculture, construction and services. The east Europeans are taking those jobs, (ie the only ones left) and holding down wages. A lot of people were being impacted, and it was accelerating to the point where the UK government had to ban the recruitment of workers from aboard unless the job had been advertised in Britain; property boom specialist Mark Carney worked his magic so well that Remania would have been built by Romanians. The Europhiles swore by economic rationality and the majority against the EU was brought into being by the logic of the single market. Live by the sword …

    • Replies: @Verymuchalive
  30. @utu

    Excellent comment! However I do have something to say about the following idea.

    This time however Russia and France are not on the British side and the conflict is not existential for the Jews,

    It never was existential for the Jews for several reasons, among which are the following.

    Jews existed in the USA quite nicely at the time, and despite FDR’s reluctance to open the borders, many more probably could have found ways in.

    The Zionist project was started years before there was much if any claim to existential threats.

    Nazis and Zionists both desired to have German Jews leave Germany each for their own reasons and there was extensive high level collaboration between Nazis and Zionists. One can easily see what a handy tool a claimed threat could be.

    Anyway, if it would help their globalist agenda, the “elite” could always manufacture another existential threat to any handy group as an excuse to justify whatever they feel the need to do.

    • Replies: @Sean
  31. Sean says:
    @Jacques Sheete

    Russia and France are not on the British side

    Look at a map.

    • Replies: @Jacques Sheete
  32. @Sean

    Like many “young” people who weren’t around at the time, your notions of what happened in the recent past, particularly the 1960s, 70s and 80s are often laughable.
    Even if Britain had not joined the EEC in 1973, much of British Industry would have been in dire straits. This is because the Wilson govt ( Labour ) signed up to the Kennedy Round of GATT ( 1968 – 72 ). By 1972, Free Trade had effectively been introduced into Britain.
    This was harmful to British Industry because most of British Industry had suffered from under-investment for decades. Plant was obsolete, training poor, management ineffectual and unions often bloody-minded. By and large, British Industry could not withstand foreign competition.

    • Replies: @Sean
  33. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    EF has the Canute reference exactly backwards.
    King Canute stood at the water’s edge to demonstrate to his fawning court that he was powerless to stop the incoming tide.

    • Agree: Bill Jones
  34. @Sean

    Read my comment. I said nothing about that. My comment remarked on the idea of existential threats.

    Besides, in this case, maps have nothing to do with it since the author was stating (correctly) that Russia and France are not [now] on the British side POLITICALLY as they were in WW2.

    Your apology is accepted. 🙂

    • Replies: @Sean
  35. @Eamonn Fingleton

    In the 60s most of the vehicles on British roads were made in Britain, now barely any. The brand names were sold off and the jobs lost.

  36. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Jeremy Clarkson’s Who Killed the British Car Industry?

    • Replies: @Philip Owen
  37. Sean says:

    England had the first industrial disputes in history. It was never going to fly that UK workers would accept a sudden arrival of not inconsiderable numbers of East European workers affecting British pay, with no end in sight and the prospect of yet more countries’ populations getting the right to come here in further EU expansion. They were white and Christian, and in direct competition, which meant objections were difficult to target and suppress. in time for the referendum.

    Joseph Chamberlain (who very unusually for a politician had made his money in manufacturing) was complaining about free trade before even you were born. I didn’t know about GATT, but have read the US demands for military expenditure were a factor in under-investment. The Pelican guide says that Britain is virtually unique in having really lost productive capacity, and Thatcher playing with interest rates was responsible for quite a bit of that. With free exchange rates response foreign competition is not going to eliminate productive capacity, just get a country to do something it is better at.

    Britain entered the EEC (European Economic Community) EU without realising it was was about a creating a superstate from countries that have made every political mistake going. and removing Britain’s ability to run itself. It took ten years for ordinary people to twig. British bankers are slower on the uptake, probably because they are still earning great money, but the EU would have come for the City’s freedom to leverage eventually.

    • Replies: @Philip Owen
  38. @Verymuchalive

    A reply to Verymuchalive:

    In an innuendo-laden contribution, you suggest that my knowledge of occidental history “leaves something to be desired.” Where is your evidence? The one statistic you adduce is that the UK’s industrial output rose by an average of 3.52 percent in the decade to 1968. You seem to think that this was puny. Not only was it regarded as a more than satisfactory performance at the time but if the UK were ever to achieve sustained growth on such a scale again, we would assuredly regard it as booming. True Japan and Germany achieved much faster growth but they were in the midst of their so-called economic miracles, black-swan experiences that owed much to the fact that their war-devastated economies started from such a low base in the late 1940s.

    You state that I am “married to a Japanese lady.” I am puzzled as to why this is relevant to a discussion of Brexit but please allow me to correct your understanding. You are referring to my former wife Yasuko Amako. Even in the years of our marriage, I never consulted Yasuko before I wrote anything. I knew enough about Japan not to open her to possible pressure from the Japanese establishment. In any case, having long found the intellectual climate in Tokyo oppressive, I decided four years ago to leave. As Yasuko, who was already then in her later 60s, chose to be near her blood relatives, we concluded an amicable divorce in 2012.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  39. Sean says:
    @Jacques Sheete

    France is not on Britain’s side against the German dominated EU, but that is only fair to us, because we had them last time. Germany is a natural enemy of Britain and Russia, which makes the latter two allies whether or not they like each other. Two world wars and all that. I apologise to you–for not mentioning geography.

    Britain is an island such things make it what it is. All countries that have exchange rates need not fear being deindustrialised by tough competition. Being in the EU is the equivalent of allowing the enemy army to get across the Channel and form up ashore so their can be a fair fight. Alternatively it is as if Britain had thrown its entire air force and navy into the Battle of France.

    The Germans want the level playing field of a single currency and single market because that is all they need to win. The EU single currency functions as a export promoter for German manufacturers and is backed by the elite and their political cats paws. Ordinary Germans, who are the ones paying for the strategy, do not have much influence on their country’s policies as far as I can see. Germany is at the centre of the Schengen Area and so they would be the winners in the EU even if they were identical to the British in every other way. But German goods are actually quite good. All they need to do is lure Britain into giving up its advantages by conceding a level playing field, and fighting to the finish on the Continent. Brexit is Dunkirk, a strategic withdrawal.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  40. Philip Owen [AKA "Soarintothesky"] says:

    Look at the report on the site for details. Sovereignty was the biggest single issue with 49% supporting a particular sovereignty statement as their main reason for voting Leave. It is hard to see stagnant working class areas with 97% of the population born in the UK getting stressed about immigration. Foreign competition for the next branch factory, yes, very much. Polish plumbers less so (often Post War Poles were in these communities). Single male refugees of military age, maybe. Anecdotally, giving these guys benefits found a response with a relative by marriage who is an elected UKIP politician. But the Tory Sovereignty argument was the one most reported.

    Ashcroft is not a commercial market researcher doing polls for publicity. He is a professional in political polling.

  41. Philip Owen [AKA "Soarintothesky"] says:

    I campaigned for Keep Britain in Europe in 1975. We were clear at the time that the EC was much more than a trade agreement. The only new issue this time was the impact of the EU on immigration. The immigration issue was then associated with The Commonwealth. Expansion was on the agenda. That is why it was Europe not the EC/Common Market. The need for unity to ensure peace was a large secondary factor on the doorstep (we knocked on doors face to face in those days – no anonymous tweeting). In 1975, the generations that actually fought in wars voted 2:1 for the EC. 40 years of die hard, lying, resistance by Powellites later, that has shifted to 1:1. That said, I think we had in mind the then future EU15 rather than the present EU28 (a result of British policy).

    You are not quite right about the reasons for loss of capacity. Participants in the debate often overlook the effect of oil on the UK economy. The Pound became a petro-currency at the same time as the Tories pushed up interest rates as an anti-inflation measure. This had devastating effects on manufacturing, with, as you say, permanent capacity losses in impossible to replace heavy industrial activities from merchant ship construction to aluminium smelting. Cities like Sunderland (ships) or Swansea (non ferrous metals) lost clusters that had taken centuries to build, although in decline already, it must be said. The EU almost certainly mitigated rather than worsened these problems. It happened again in the early 1990’s. There were other mistakes (from manufacturing/Leave voters perspective) but life is too short.

    On the other hand, overvalued currency is wonderful for money managers. It can be used for Foreign Investment (known in Russia as capital flight). If the Arabs also send their money to you for lack of their own advisers, you have even more finance looking for deal turnover. Many big industrials were loaded up with debt which they couldn’t support in downturns. The physical plant remains but foreign owners are now in control. GEC-Marconi and ICI disappeared this way for example. Even without oil related tax cuts, overvalued currency also boosts retail spending on cheap imports (aka inflation control) so distributive services boomed and electrical motor factories employing 14,000 engineers (including many WW2 Poles and Ukrainians) became retail parks employing 10,000 part time shop assistants (the fate of AEI Rugby). Trafford Park in Manchester was perhaps the most extreme example of this.

    Oil shifted the UK from a manufacturer still equal to Germany (although moving in the wrong direction) to The Best of the Rest now. US, China, Japan, Germany and South Korea are all distinctively strong in market share as manufacturers. The next 9 countries all have about 2% market share with the UK being strong at just under 3%. Russia at just under 2% comes in at 14.

    Britain is still world dominant in net exported services. Insure a ship. Design a mobile phone (the phone bit and the base station networks) or high connectivity chips. Borrow Euro or RMB. Get advice on rebuilding your nation’s electrical grid. The UK’s the place. Oil is slow to affect these. The EU little affects these either but the more everyday service businesses (e,g. mortgages household and motor insurance) are affected by international restrictions that the EU has been dismantling. The EU would have become dominant in these within the EU.

    The Russian and Norwegian strategy of Sovereign Wealth Funds moderates these effects but they cannot be escaped.

    The lower price of oil is why the EU is starting a 20 year boom.

    • Replies: @Sean
  42. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Brexit is Dunkirk, a strategic withdrawal.

    So are the Germans repeating their mistake at Dunkirk by letting the Brits withdraw

  43. Philip Owen [AKA "Soarintothesky"] says:
    @Anonymous Nephew

    The whitest local authority in the UK, Blaenau Gwent, delivered the 2nd biggest Leave vote in Wales. That was fear of Slovak>Turkish>Ukrainian>God Knows competition not racism. Although actually, it was the Chinese who really took the jobs.

    Wales voted Leave but by a much smaller margin than the English provinces. Flintshire, full of English immigrants provided the highest vote for Leave.

    • Replies: @Anonymous Nephew
  44. Philip Owen [AKA "Soarintothesky"] says:

    Clarkson has it. There is more to say. In the early 1980’s, as a practising engineer, I gave the Engineer in Society course at Bristol University. A part of my presentation was about the principle of market segmentation. It explained why Ford was running rings around BL. On my slides, I had 27 BL models. I may not have found them all. Ford had 4 models (might have been 5) covering the same markets. Both firms had about the same UK sales at the time. There were other factors. BMC never knowingly employed a graduate engineer. All designers were craft apprentices. Ford was weak on using apprenticeships away from the shop floor but employed its graduate trainees in many disciplines often elsewhere filled by people with O or A levels. No Bennite inverted snobbery at Ford.

    Edwardes was brilliant. He slashed the model range and closed the small plants that Benn had insisted on keeping open. Ten years earlier, even five, he could have turned things around. They had already lost too much share. The later strategy of being the luxury option in each segment could also have worked well if only they had global distribution which neither Honda nor BMW (the minnows of world car making) could provide. So without volume and with a disaster of a factory layout at Longbridge their costs were too high. BMW are very happy with Cowley.

    Quite frankly, the EU could have saved them but they didn’t have the capacity to build a dealer network nor did Honda. Meanwhile, their own oversized, undersupported dealer network (another set of zombies kept alive by Benn;s request & Maggie’s) became an easy entry point for foreign brands.

    Britain was full of manufacturers over reliant on craft skills. Tony Benn pushed a lot of zombie firms into big groups, not just in the motor car business. I am not aware of an example that worked. In my own industry at the time, electrical engineering, we ended up with 4 locations in one company making very large motors and generators, two in one town! Benn and others kept them open by threatening to place future orders with Reyrolle Parsons which had escaped consolidation if there was a closure. The surviving parts now belong to Siemens.

    The EU was lost opportunity not a killer.

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  45. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Philip Owen

    While you and Clarkson surely make good points about the problems and inefficiencies of the British car industry back then, doesn’t the ultimate blame have to rest with the Thatcherites, who sold off and dismantled the British car industry, not with an eye towards streamlining and reviving it, but as part of a broader economic policy of abandoning industry and manufacturing and focusing on services?

  46. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:
    @Eamonn Fingleton


    In the years following 2007, per capita GDP in the UK has increased by all of, wait for it, *0.9%*. Therefore, the yearly rise in per capita GDP in those years was as damn near neglible as you can get. Put it this way, China grew more in one week than the UK did in a year.
    Surely, this must be the *worst ever* rate of economic growth ever achieved by Britain in recorded economic history – and statistics have been kept in Britain for a very long time.

    I wager that medieval Britain with its watermills, mule trains and hand tools did better.

    On another note, the period 2007 to present coincided with the biggest immigration wave in UK history by far. Evidently, whatever else mass immigration does, it does not ‘grow’ the economy.

    By contrast the robust 3% steady growth seen in the sixties was the highest ever growth rate recorded by Britain – higher even than the days of Victorian industrialisation.

  47. Anonymous @ #46

    medieval Britain with its watermills, mule trains and hand tools did better.

    I don’t doubt we’re due a Malthusian blast of pestilence in England soon due to the astonishing and precarious overpopulation, achieved mainly by the voracious importation of extra rent-payers invariably on the welfare teat, and near-serf labourers in preference to automation, by the Proprietors. Complete with new untreatable mutations of ancient diseases, recently eradicated in the West, by the hygiene-unencumbered colonist horde.
    The Black Death (a.k.a. Almighty God the Plague) created a mini-boom for its survivors, wages and incipient industrialisation both went up, hand in hand with consequent political reform.
    Every cloud … , and all that.

  48. @Ye Antient Oliphant

    The hyperbole associated with Brexit has reached truly Shakespearean levels of imagination: it’s actually been claimed, repeatedly, that it would/has influenced Australian voters to vote back the Liberal (ie conservative) government….why ? Fearful Australian voters are now more desperate for “stability”….. LOL

    • Replies: @Anonymous
  49. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    Furthermore, the British government – and certain economists of a dodgy persuasion just love to boast, at any given opportunity, that ‘more workers are employed in Britain than at any time history’.

    Perhaps. But surely, as past evidence always suggested, more workers means more income tax receipts, let alone all the other taxes people with spending power pay, and thus the treasury should be flushed with cash, with money flooding in from all directions. So fast that the government wouldn’t know how and where to spend it.

    Only, it doesn’t seem to be working that way, and ‘austerity’ and the deficit continue.

    Evidently, something somewhere is fouled up.

  50. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:


    And the Italians just tried to pin the bust-up of their rotten banking sector – incidentally EU and euro caused, thus another justification for brexit – on brexit.


  51. @Tom Welsh

    I like to think that the Leave vote only needed one word to justify itself: “Greece”. Vote for the HUMAN POISON who performed this post-modern Greek Tragedy ? Fuck that – I’d rather vote for Hitler: he at least (yes, ultimately it doesn’t justify any support for him, I’m just trying to give people the shits) — was a genuine war hero. (A psychopath, yes, but so are they– they WILL cause as much pain as the little corporal, but they will try to cover themselves with high sounding “post-modern” virtue…)

    • Replies: @Tom Welsh
  52. Tom Welsh says:

    I did, and will do so in future.

  53. Tom Welsh says:

    The same thought has often struck me. Say what you will about the Nazis, but they were relatively open about their goals. In tactical matters they lied and dissimulated a lot – and quite effectively – but their strategy was no secret. Just read “Mein Kampf”. It may be horrible, but no more horrible than the Old Testament – which, after all, is much the same kind of strategic plan, but much more long-winded. Both involved winning Lebensraum for a Chosen People, by sheer brute force followed by exterminating or enslaving the conquered peoples. If not for Zionism and the phenomenon of Israel, one could defend the Old Testament by pointing out that it describes events that happened thousands of years ago. But the Naqba happened since I was born, and so I take personal exception to it.

    As for Hitler himself, it is far too rarely acknowledged that he was personally brave, dedicated and loyal. Perhaps because of the halo effect, many people seem to find it hard to admit that bad men can have considerable virtues, but it is true. (And of course Hitler was gassed by the British, nearly losing his sight and even his life), so he was even a victim, and thus by today’s standards immune to criticism.

  54. Sean says:
    @Philip Owen

    Say the oil money had been poured into a massive program of investment in UK manufacturing, could we have taken the Germans on and beat them at their own game ? It’s possible …. If I recall correctly Clarkson said his parents had an ancient Audi they gave him and nothing ever went wrong with it. You seem to think Britain can match that quality but what makes you think so?

    As I understand it an engineering champion country can’t knock out a lesser country’s productive capacity because exchange rates make the champion’s goods too expensive. The EU is removing that protection and introducing a level playing field. The EU is about creating economies of scale with a couple of firms making washing machines, for instance, instead of umpteen. The single market, currency and standardization is about taking down the barriers (there are many) to the champion country destroying its competitors, perhaps that is why Lord Weinstock (“Britain’s premier post-second-world-war industrialist”) warned that joining the EU could lead to Britain being deindustrialsed.

    The defence industry is behind most of the remaining advanced engineering in Britain, but you want to open that up to European wide free market mechanisms as well.

    In 1975, the generations that actually fought in wars voted 2:1 for the EC.

    The EU will certainly prevent wars within Europe, but probably at the cost of getting into one with Russia, which has clearly decided that military force is necessary to halt the West expanding East.

    • Replies: @5371
  55. @Philip Owen

    “it was the Chinese who really took the jobs”

    If you mean the good manufacturing jobs, maybe so. But if even the poorly-paid jobs are subject to EE competition, who can blame them for voting Brexit?

    Interesting places, the valleys. Housing is very very cheap by UK standards, the landscape’s quite attractive and transport links to the jobs of Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan not bad. But would you fancy taking the last train from Cardiff to Merthyr or Treherbert on a Friday night with an English accent?

    “Flintshire, full of English immigrants provided the highest vote for Leave.”

    There are an awful lot of English people in Wales who are refugees from diversity in England (hardly any in the Valleys though).

  56. 5371 says:

    [In 1975, the generations that actually fought in wars voted 2:1 for the EC.]

    And one can be sure what is left of them just voted by a big margin to leave the EU.

  57. Anonymous • Disclaimer says:

    The disintegration of the EU is inevitable. This is related to the plan of God. Let me remind here a fragment of an ancient vision: “And [the king of the north = Russia since the second half of the nineteenth century (Daniel 11:27)] will go back (to) his land with great wealth [1945. This detail indicated that Hitler will attack also the Soviet Union and will fight to the bitter end. In the beginning there were no signs of such the ending of this war]; and his heart (will be) against the holy covenant [hostility towards Christians]; and will act [it means activity in the international arena]; and turned back to his own land [1991-1993. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact. Russian troops returned to their country]. At the appointed time [he] will return back.” (Daniel 11:28, 29a) The return of Russia in this context also means break up the European Union and NATO.

  58. As for Hitler himself, it is far too rarely acknowledged that he was personally brave, dedicated and loyal. ..

    So why didn’t he get promoted past corporal, despite several years of brave, dedicated and loyal service in Kaiser Bill’s army?

    • Replies: @5371
  59. 5371 says:
    @David Davenport

    Runner wasn’t a job which involved authority over others, and he wasn’t dedicated to kissing ass.

  60. Excellent column. I look forward to reading your book, Mr. Fingleton.

  61. To answer your question “why is everyone so surprised”: Because this referendum decision is so profoundly idiotic on a number of planes: First; it shows complete ignorance of history: Britain was a complete shambles in the 60s, 70s and early 80s, socially, industrially and politically. Joining the EU was the last hope for bringing some sense into the British working class mindset, it obviously has not worked. Secondly; the idea of Britain being a world class manufacturing nation has not been true for at least 100 years. Thirdly; what “sovereignty” did the British working class have before the EU; answer; none. Westminster ignored public opinion completely and specifically with regard to mass 3rd world immigration particularly from the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent, we were flooded with immigrants pre 1972.
    The result however can be explained more simply; it was a protest vote against David Cameron and the Tories, had he campaigned vigorously for “Leave”, “Remain” would have won by 20 points.
    It is interesting to see PM May’s plan unfolding, she of course is a firm “Remain” believer. Now she has given the SNP a veto over BREXIT, it is obviously never going to happen. She has also weakened SNP and the Scottish independence movement although I believe not fatally, Scottish independence is a certainty. Of course when that happens there goes the permanent seat on the UN Security Council, it is held by “The United Kingdom etc.” That may not matter to the man on the street but it is vital to Whitehall, that seat is the last vestige of British relevance on the world stage, without that seat Britain becomes a 2nd rate European power.
    Considering the future of England; brutal is about the only word that applies, consider that England has a food deficit, a fuel deficit, a technology deficit, a technical skills deficit, a productivity deficit and a work ethic deficit. Throw in the financial trade and current account deficits and “brutal” is hardly adequate.
    Oh well, mustn’t grumble.

  62. Anon • Disclaimer says:

    I’d credit the Irish Republican Army with an unintended assist. There are enough British people who remember what it was like living in a society that suffered terrorist attacks that the thought of importing a new people who would launch many more generations of attacks made the natives blanch. Until the recent rounds of crazed Islamic jihad, many continental Europeans haven’t seen anything like this since the 1960s, and they haven’t really grasped what they’re getting into.

  63. Fredrik says:
    @The Alarmist

    I told an analyst at a “respectable” British financial institution at the beginning of last week that I thought Brexit would be positive for the UK and negative for the EU and got a look like I was coming from Mars. They really do drink the Kool-Aid.

    Don’t forget that whatever merits Brexit may have there are losers on the British side. The City is a loser in most Brexit scenarios since they will lose a lot of their access to other EU countries markets.

  64. whatever says:

    hey fingleton. why don’t you update your website and twitter profile so people know where to follow you. otherwise it looks like forbes dumped you

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