Where have they all gone?

On Saturday, I spoke to a good friend on the phone. She is German, like me, and works for a British firm in London. Some weeks ago, she was sent to the Middle East to supervise a local project which unfortunately lead to her missing the full, on the ground Brexit-experience that we enjoyed here. She is still there, in the sweltering heat, and is trying to follow the post-Brexit fall out as closely as possible.

One of the things that my friend is particularly angry about is the fact that Johnson, Gove and Farage, the triumvirate that engineered the victory of the Leave-side, have now all but vanished from the political stage. Well, you might say, that’s an old hat, isn’t it? It might feel as if, given that within the last two and a half weeks, most of what people like me and my friend thought we had known about this country is no longer true. Thus, with headlines chasing each other, people seem to get used to this new reality fairly quickly.

My friend though is still struggling. “This is just not correct”, she, a strong supporter of Britain’s EU-membership, said. “How can it be that these people are not held accountable for what they have done?” Fair point. Of course, the media reported widely on Johnson’s withdrawal, Gove’s betrayal and Farage’s resignation as chair of Ukip. As we found out, he wants to remain a British MEP even though he was one of the core driving forces that made the UK vote for Leave.

Calls for him to step down fell on deaf ears, even though MPs like Tom Brake have critised him heavily. Last week, when I interviewed Brake, he said: “You can’t call for the EU to be dismantled and at the same time benefit from a generous salary and expense allowances. Nigel needs to do the honourable thing – he cannot spend years complaining about the Brussels gravy train and stay on it.” Unfortunately, that’s exactly what Farage intends to do.

Besides Nigel, let’s not forget people like Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Their failure to accept responsibility is as disappointing as that of Nigel Farage. None of this is of course a surprise. I knew from the beginning onwards that neither of the three were willing to carry the burden of implementing the vote of the British people.

What I am surprised about though is that we don’t hear anything from Leave-voters, those that thought that the NHS would get 350 million pounds more per week if the UK left the EU, those that believed that the UK could just end European migration with a snap of a finger. Why are we not hearing from them?

It’s obvious that they have been misled and lied to by people like Nigel Farage, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove. Most of the claims made during the campaign were taken back quickly, within days, and quickly afterwards, the main protagonists are leaving the stage and nobody stops them from doing so.

If I was a Leave-voter, I would be really angry these days. I would feel fooled and used by people who obviously were not interested in the fate of the British people but only in their own careers. But Leave-voters seem to not bother. I googled around a bit and found an interesting entry on Quora. On the question whether Brexit voters felt betrayed now that Farage and Johnson have resigned, user Alex Higgins had an easy answer: “No. Farage is a national hero who has restored Britain’s freedom. Johnson was stabbed in the back by his ex-friend Gove and left with no option but to withdraw. Very simple really.”

If this is what Leave-voters think (I still haven’t met a single one of them, elitist me), then there is only one conclusion one can draw: A large part of the population in this country does not mind if they are being lied to.

In a democracy, we get the politicians and the government we deserve. This seems to be especially true for today’s Britain.

 

Leaving the UK

It did not take long. Several days into the new, post-Brexit reality, more than a handful of foreign friends have already declared their intention to leave the UK. It’s not just Europeans but also Americans, Canadians, and even Chinese. They all have different reasons for leaving.

Take Jovana, a change consultant who has lived and worked in London for four years. Jovana is German but thought she would stay in the UK. However, after Thursday’s Brexit-vote, things have changed quite dramatically. Although nothing has really changed, from a legal perspective, Jovana wants to leave the UK, as soon as possible, but no later than the end of the year. “If this is the message – that we are no longer welcome here – I don’t want to continue living in the UK”, she explained when I interviewed her on Tuesday.

Jovana is a true believer in the European project and thus the rejection of it by British voters has affected her deeply. “I am perceived as one of the better migrants”, she stated, highlighting the differenciation that is being made between “good immigration” from countries such as France and Germany, and “bad immigration” from Eastern European countries. Jovana is currently searching for jobs in Berlin, one of the cities that might actually benefit from Britain’s vote to Leave.

Another friend of mine, Natalie, hasn’t gotten quite that far. She has lived and studied in the UK as well, founded her company here. Natalie is American and has waited since March for the arrival of her new investor visa. “Since then, I haven’t even been able to go to Paris”, she complained, “I had to submit my passport for this.”

If for any reason, her visa is not prolonged, Natalie already has a Plan B. She plans to move to Amsterdam, to the Netherlands, a city that is, according to her, much more open to young businesses than London with its sky-high rents and lots of economic uncertainty, thanks to the vote for Brexit. In her circle of friends, Natalie is not the only one thinking of leaving the UK: “There are several others who have are mulling over this idea as well”, she said.

There are a couple more examples I could mention. All these friends are relatively young, cosmopolitan, well-educated and can’t identify themselves with the strange turn that the country has taken since it voted for Brexit on Thursday. Interestingly though, none of them mentioned a potential change in the existing Freedom of Labour framework that has so far allowed non-British EU-citizens to work and live in the UK. According to recent labour market statistics, there are 2.1 million of these people currently working in the UK.

What might happen to them after a British divorce from the EU is difficult to tell. Both camps have declared before the referendum that Europeans who are already in Britain would be allowed to stay and those who are arriving between now and the exit date could be grandfathered, thus allowed to stay. That, it seems, is also what a majority of Europeans working in the UK would want. According to a survey by Totaljobs, 76 percent of Europeans working in the UK want to stay even in case of a Brexit.

Another interesting fact is that the Leave-side has already backtracked on some of its core arguments regarding immigration. As Tory MP and Leave-supporter Daniel Hannan explained, people who thought that European immigration would be reduced to zero after a British exit from the EU would most likely be disappointed.

Thus, Madeleine Sumption, the Director of the Migration Observatory at the University of Oxford, assumes that there will be some form of continued European immigration into the UK. “Immigration will continue to be the most controversial issue in unpicking the relationship between the UK and the EU”, she stated on Monday when I interviewed her for DIE WELT.

For those that want to stay in the UK, this question is one that will keep us awake at night. Others, like Jovana, have already relocated from the UK, at least in their minds.

The Big Day

So finally, here we are. After a long and brutal campaign, the UK votes on whether it wants to remain a member of the European Union or not. Polling stations are open from 7 AM in the morning until 10 PM at night. Unfortunately for journalists like me, there won’t be any exit polls during the day, the BBC is prohibited from reporting on the potential outcome whilst polling booths are still open. “Otherwise, this could be seen as a means for trying to influence the outcome”, a BBC producer told me on Wednesday when I came in for a short live on World News.

For many journalists, referendum day itself will be quiet. I will finish two pieces for Friday just in case and set up some last minute interviews. And then, it’s just waiting, speaking to colleagues, and maybe saying a prayer. According to the weather forecast, Thursday will see a lot of rain, especially in the morning and early afternoon. That might keep some voters from making the move to the polling station, a fact that could potentially help the Leave-side, given that they are said to be much more enthusiastic about their course than the Remain-side.

It will take a while until we get a sense of direction. Markets are not expected to move too much (or sideways) on Thursday. That might change from around 1 AM onwards. According to the Independent, Newcastle and Sunderland will be amongst the first results to declare. Both are strong Labour areas so they could provide a clue as to whether Jeremy Corbyn has succeeded in convincing his party to vote Remain. At 1:30 AM, Stirling, the first big Scottish city, is set to declare. In case there is no big win for Remain, the country might be heading for Brexit. At 2 AM, Oxford and Basildon are announced, followed by Hammersmith and Eurosceptic Torbay at 3 AM. An hour later, it’s Birmingham’s turn. Until 7 AM, there will be more and more results coming in. At 7 AM, the Electoral Commission expects the final four results.

By then, I should be able to observe how markets react to the outcome of the referendum. For many traders and money managers, it will be a long night. Banks have prepared by calling people in for different parts of the night, hedging risky investments and creating back stops. Some traders have already told me that they will  be doing an “all-nighter”, a phenomenon normally limited to the world of investment banking. “I will stay all night”, a senior trader said to me on Wednesday, “until noon, when I’ll go home to crash into bed.”

Whatever the outcome, it’s going be interesting. Let’s see what time I get to sleep on Friday.

Reporting the Attack on Jo Cox

For some time, I have not only been working with DIE WELT, the German newspaper, but I have also been working for N24, the national news channel that our holding company Axel Springer bought in December 2013. Mergers are never easy and so it has taken a while for the integration of DIE WELT and N24 to make some progress.

In Berlin, they are currently working on a new, joint website. My colleagues at DIE WELT often times comment on trending developments not only for our print and online edition, but also for N24. On Thursday, I received further proof that the integration has entered a new stage and that we are getting closer to becoming a truly multimedia outlet that provides content for all channels – print, online, mobile and TV. Unfortunately, it was a very sad incident that provided that insight.

Just after 4 PM in the afternoon, I was on the phone with an interview partner, when a colleague from N24 called and asked whether I could do a live on the attack on Labour MP Jo Cox? I hadn’t followed the story and had to get myself prepared within a very short amount of time. Some fifteen minutes later, the first live started. I answered the most pressing questions and thought I was done. But no. The phone rang again and again. In the end, I did five lives for N24 – an indication that the merger between WELT and N24 is not only working in Germany but also abroad.

The incident itself is really shocking. Apparently, Jo Cox, a 41-year old mother of two, was stabbed and shot when she interfered in a scuffle in her constituency in West Yorkshire. A 52-year old man shot her several times, reportedly at least once close to the face. According to witnesses, he shouted “Britain first” before that. Cox was known to be an ardent supporter of Britain’s continued membership in the EU. Only on Wednesday, she took part in a boat demonstration on the Thames, waving a flag for Remain.

At this point, we don’t know whether the attack was politically motivated or not and whether there is any connection to the upcoming EU-referendum. Both sides, the Leave- and the Remain side, cancelled their campaigning for the rest of the day. Also on Friday and Saturday, there will be no campaigning for the EU-referendum. Leading politicians, including David Cameron, George Osborne, Jeremy Corbyn and Nigel Farage, have taken to Twitter to utter their condolences and their sympathies for Cox’s family.

With only seven days to go, reporting the referendum is obviously getting much more difficult. It will be easy to draw the wrong conclusions after this incident. Let’s hope that journalists do their job properly and check the facts before they report.

 

Britain and the Eurozone

We are now in the final strides in the run-up to the EU referendum. No surprise that the debate gets ever more heated, more vitriolic and more off-topic. I, of course, know that the British debate around the EU does not circle just around the British membership of the EU, but also around the overall state of the EU and the question where the confederation of states will head to in the future. Thus, it is not with great surprise there are things coming up that have something to do with Europe, yes, but not with the British membership of the EU. Nevertheless, they are mentioned as arguments against the continuation of the British EU membership.

One of these arguments is that it is just a matter of days, months or years until the Euro, the currency that 19 member states share, will collapse, no doubt about it. Europe, the Leave campaign argues, is about to go down in a sea of debts and deficits, taking the common currency with it. Should it survive a little longer, the costs for the upkeep of the EU will inevitably rise, the Leave-side claims, leading to higher financial obligations for the UK.

Prior to that, we were told that the UK would have to contribute to further bail-out programs, should Euro-countries such as Greece need some extra cash – although Prime Minister Cameron 2011 made sure that the European Stability Mechanism (ESM) would not continue to provide funding for needy Euro-countries. According to that deal, only the 19 Euro-countries are expected to account for their currency partners’ debts and deficits.

This was again confirmed in the EU-UK agreeement that David Cameron negotiated in February. “Emergency and crisis measures designed to safeguard the financial stability of the Euro area will not entail budgetary responsibility for Member States whose currency is not the Euro, or, as the case may be, for those not participating in the banking union”, the the final document read. Still, the Leave-side claims that Britain will have to pay more, should it stay a member of the European Union, both into the budget but also in case of future financial crises in the Eurozone.

I do admit that the EU is currently not in its best possible shape. There are the structural challenges of the currency, the high levels of public debt, the need for structural reform and more competitiveness. The Euro-crisis, the Greek debt crisis and the refugee crisis are just three of the crises that have devastated trust in the EU and its institutions. And yes, I do acknowledge that it’s not going to be an easy ride for Britain, was it to remain a member of the European Union.

Due to the shared currency in the majority of EU states, there will inevitably be a move towards more, not less integration. In order for Europe to keep its currency working, there is a need for more fiscal alignment, more coordination and more oversight by European regulatory bodies. I am not sure whether this necessarily leads to a fiscal and political union, as Wolfgang Munchau commented in Monday’s Financial Times.

“My conclusion is that there is no way around a political and fiscal union in the long run, even if the idea is growing less fashionable. Without it, I see no counterweight to a rise in German power in the Eurozone and no end to the rise in intra-Eurozone imbalances”, Munchau wrote. But, to some degree, I agree – there is strong case for more fiscal and political integration, do we want to improve the functioning of the Euro.

Of course, this does not sound great to British ears. Many Brits still cherish the fact that their country did not join the Eurozone but instead kept the Pound Sterling. I sometimes hear comments like “Look at the Euro – it’s obvious that we are standing on the right side of history” and “Thank god, we did not introduce the Euro”. Much can be said about the structural problems of the EU. And yes, I understand that Britain has the fear of being minimised in a Euro-dominated EU. There is a legitimate point to be made here – what role can the UK play, was it to stay, in a European Union that becomes more, not less unified, a direction of travel that the UK has resisted before?  This needs careful thinking and an open debate.

Nevertheless, one should not forget that there are eight other countries that are part of the EU but that don’t use the Euro. Let’s not pretend as if the UK was the only country that had this issue. Often times, there is a second reason why Brexit supporters mention the Euro. They claim that in a short while, we will see the whole project implode. This is the only route that Leave-supporters see the Eurozone taking and with it the EU. To me, this argument stems from a lack of perspective and understanding.

Even if there are deficiences in the Euro, support for the common currency in Germany for example stays strong. This does not only refer to public support but also to political support. Giving away the Deutsche Mark was a long and painful process for Germany. Do Brexiteers really think that Germany and other Euro-countries would let the Euro fail, now that so much money, time and effort has been spent on trying to improve its functioning? The fact that it has its difficulties is a strong motivation to get it fixed, not to dismantle the whole project and get back to the Mark, the Franc and the Lira.

This to me is another example of the difference between what continental Europeans tend to think and what many British people think. Even though the commonly shared currency makes it impossible for weaker economies to just devalue their currencies and thus regain competitiveness, none of the existing Euro-countries wants to get rid of the currency. Even Greece, at the brink of bankruptcy, was desperate last year to remain a member of the currency block. Thus, I find it funny that one of the arguments that people bring forward when proposing Brexit is the state of the Eurozone. Britain is not part of the Eurozone and will probably never become one.

The point is similar to many of the other arguments we hear from Vote Leave – that for example Turkey would become a member of the European Union fairly soon and that 75 million turks would then be entitled to work in the Schengen area. This is, to put it midly, not the most realistic thing to happen. Germany, especially the CSU – the CDU’s sister party in Southern Germany – does have strong objections against a Turkish membership in the EU and has done so for the last 30 years.

The turn that the country has taken under Premier Erdogan during the last year makes it ever more unlikely that this was to change quickly. Thus, I know at least one strong voice – not the least influential one – against it. By the way, France, a second core member of the EU, also objects to a Turkish accession to the EU.

I am mentioning this to underline the fact that the British EU-debate has unfortunately moved away from the initial subject matter. Instead of debating the advantages and disadvantages of the membership of the European Union, politicians, advocates and journalists instead discuss all sorts of maybes, “could-bes” and “would-bes”, without any of them having a crystal ball. With June 23rd approaching fast, this will only get worse.

It would sometimes be good for Brits to ask fellow Europeans for insight when discussing core European topics. There is not just a British view on all things European.