Sunday 26 June 2016

Brexit: UK votes to leave EU in historic referendum

David Cameron Resigns As UK Prime Minister After Brexit Vote

Turmoil as Britain votes to leave EU
By Ravi Velloor, Associate Editor (Global Affairs) In London, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2016

Britain is faced with negotiating a tricky exit from the European Union and picking a new leader after the hotly contested referendum on remaining within the EU produced a stunning Leave verdict.

Prime Minister David Cameron, whose decision to call the vote is now regarded as a blunder, announced yesterday that he would quit office by October. He leaves a party and nation badly divided over issues of immigration, identity and the economy.

Asian markets were roiled after the results showed a 51.9 per cent vote for Leave against 48.1 per cent for Remain, defying predictions of pollsters and bookies. The result threatens to unravel the European project and even the United Kingdom, with every voting district in pro-Europe Scotland voting Remain and Northern Ireland also voting decisively to stay. Wales voted to Leave.

"This is Independence Day," said Mr Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, who, along with former London mayor Boris Johnson, spearheaded the Leave campaign. "See EU later!", crowed the Rupert Murdoch-owned The Sun tabloid, which had vigorously campaigned for Brexit.

Asian markets that had ended Thursday trading comforted by predictions of a Remain vote reacted badly to the result with stocks, the pound and euro hammered from the moment Sunderland, a metropolitan borough in north-east England, showed a stunningly pro-Leave result during early counting.

At press time, the pound, which suffered its biggest drop against the greenback since 1985, fell to as low as S$1.80 to the pound in Singapore.

Singapore's Straits Times Index ended 2.09 per cent lower, faring better than Japan's Nikkei 225, which plunged nearly 8 per cent.

The bad news for financial markets may not be over. DBS Group chief investment officer Lim Say Boon warned clients of an impending "perfect storm". Nomura's advice was similar: "Expect waves of contagion in Asia." There could be political fallout on Asia as well as groupings like Asean.

People in restive regions like Catalonia, Tibet, Xinjiang, Kashmir and Mindanao could also be inspired by the Brexit.

Mr Cameron said Britain will wait until a new prime minister is in place before triggering exit talks and invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Once Article 50 is invoked, Britain gets two years to negotiate the terms of separation.

European leaders, facing the prospect of six decades of political and economic integration dissolving, reacted with dismay. French President Francois Hollande said the vote "poses a grave test for Europe". German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed "great regret" and called for a calm and measured response.

"In unsettling ways, the referendum has put the future of Europe, the transatlantic alliance and the international liberal order itself in play, and done little to settle them," said Mr Daniel Twining, director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States.

The Leave camp scored a margin of more than a million votes in a poll that saw the highest voter turnout since 1992.The results made it untenable for Mr Cameron to continue as PM. His voice breaking, he told a press conference the will of the British public would be respected.

"I think it's right that the new prime minister takes the decision about when to trigger Article 50 and start the formal and legal process of leaving the EU," he said.

Unlike Mr Farage, former mayor Johnson, whose campaign ended Mr Cameron's political career, was in a sombre mood yesterday.

Praising Mr Cameron as "one of the most extraordinary politicians of our age" and for keeping his word on the referendum, he said the EU idea was a noble one but "no longer right" for Britain.

"This does not mean that the United Kingdom will be in any way less united, it does not mean it will be any less European," he said.

Britain may now need to prepare for its own dismantling. Scotland is certain to call for a second referendum on staying in the UK, after rejecting one two years ago on promises that Britain will stay in the EU.

"As things stand, Scotland faces the prospect of being taken out of the EU against her will. I regard that as democratically unacceptable," First Minister Nicola Sturgeon told reporters. "I think an independence referendum is now highly likely."

Brexit vote a turning point: PM Lee
By Rachel Au-Yong, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2016

Britain's vote to leave the European Union is "a turning point", said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, as he wished the country well amid the uncertainty that lies ahead.

The referendum result - 51.9 per cent of about 33 million voters favoured leaving the union - reflects anxiety over immigration, resentment at having to accommodate European partners, and a desire to assert British identity and sovereignty, he said.

Other developed countries also face similar challenges as Britain, he noted. "We all live in a globalised, interdependent world. The desire to disengage, to be less constrained by one's partners, to be free to do things entirely as one chooses, is entirely understandable," he said in a Facebook post yesterday.

But the reality for many countries is that "disengaging and turning inwards will likely lead to less security, less prosperity, and a dimmer future".


As for what lies ahead, Mr Lee said the next few years will be uncertain for Britain and Europe.

"Leaving the EU is as complicated as joining it. What new arrangements will be made? Will this hurt investor confidence more broadly, and the global economy? How will Britain's leaving affect the rest of the EU? How will this affect us, living in Asia but part of the same globalised world?It is too early to tell, but we need to watch developments carefully. Nobody can foresee all the consequences of the Brexit," he said.

He extended good wishes to Britain and its Prime Minister David Cameron, who has since resigned. Mr Cameron, Mr Lee said, has been a good friend of Singapore. Singapore will continue to cultivate its ties with Britain, a longstanding friend and partner, he added.

"We hope in time the uncertainty will diminish, and we will make the best of the new reality."

Markets mauled, but it's not like 2008 crisis: Tharman
By Lim Yan Liang, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2016

Britain's decision to leave the European Union (EU) has raised "profound questions" revolving around politics, Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said on Facebook yesterday.

Markets will react negatively to the news and the loss of growth in Britain and Europe in the next few years will ripple and hurt the world, including Asia and Singapore.

But the reactions "will not be like 2008 when the house came down", he added, referring to the US subprime crisis that led to a global financial crisis which threatened to bring down large financial institutions.

Instead, Mr Tharman said the larger questions have to do with the divisions that led different groups to vote differently.

Many who voted to stay in the EU were young, well-educated, and have good incomes, while those who voted to leave were older, less educated and felt they were losing out, he said.

"Many of the people who voted for Britain to leave Europe, like those in England's industrial cities, may end up being hurt by its economic consequences," he said. "Yet their frustration over their jobs and wages, and their fear of uncontrolled immigration if Britain stayed in Europe, has shaped their votes."

The Brexit vote is emblematic of a "new brew" in politics worldwide, he added, noting the growing appeal of nationalist politics, demagogues and even outright racism - especially in the most mature of democracies.

Growing disaffection with the Establishment and weakening of trust and consensus in society and the centre of politics has led to fringe and extremist parties gaining appeal, he said.

"We do not know where this will lead to, but it cannot mean anything good," he said.

"But to tackle it, the politics of the centre must stay connected to the challenges that ordinary people face and address their need for jobs and security, and a balance in immigration that preserves a sense of identity."

Tackling this problem without turning inward and weakening jobs and society further "is the central challenge everywhere".

Other local politicians also highlighted the economic and political lessons for Singapore.

Minister for National Development Lawrence Wong said the vote is yet "another reminder" Singapore has to stay alert and nimble and keep adapting and innovating to survive and thrive in an uncertain world.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said the political repercussions include the response of Scotland, which is looking to a second independence referendum, and leaves open the question whether other EU nations will hold similar referendums.

"The most important lesson is that change is inevitable and that when it comes, it is the solidarity of a nation's people with each other and their leaders that will pull them through," he said.

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said at a community event that Brexit is unlikely to change the "strong traditional relationship'' between Singapore and Britain in economics, diplomacy and defence.

He noted that almost half of Singapore's investment in the EU goes to Britain. "In the uncertain months and years to come, (Britain) will have to try to re-establish its old ties, its old relationships, that supported its trading and investment, flows both ways."


Why leave? - News analysis

A protest against parties and price of globalisation
Established political parties in Britain failed to address the rising discontent among those who are feeling left behind
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent, The Straits Times, 25 Jun 2016

When British Prime Minister David Cameron first came up with the idea of holding a referendum on his country's membership in the European Union, he argued the vote would settle, "for at least a generation", a debate that had overshadowed British political life for decades, and would stop his government colleagues from "banging on" about Europe, as he put it at that time.

What he got instead is Britain's departure from the EU, a much bigger debate about Europe which is guaranteed to rumble on for years, and the destruction of his political career. A more comprehensive own-goal can hardly be imagined. And all because neither the Prime Minister nor many of Britain's other politicians ever understood the sheer scale of the popular rebellion facing them.

The opinion pollsters who followed the 10-week referendum campaign predicted for some time that the outcome would be close, with the Brexiters, as those advocating Britain's departure from the EU are known, almost evenly matched with EU supporters. However, what the pollsters failed to predict is how powerful was the loathing for the EU among certain segments of the electorate, and the determination of Brexiters to be heard.

The outcome is a fundamental split. In some parts of London such as the leafy northern suburb of Islington or the super-expensive area of Kensington and Chelsea, over two-thirds of the electorate voted for Britain to stay in the EU. But most of England's countryside voted "no", and in some industrial parts of north England, rejection of the EU surpassed 70 per cent.

Furthermore, the four component members of the United Kingdom also split on this topic. England and Wales rejected the EU, while Scotland and Northern Ireland expressed their overall support for Britain's continued EU membership.

An even more significant factor was the turnout. In urban areas such as Lambeth in south London where an astonishing 79 per cent of the ballots were in favour of the EU, turnout was a respectable but unremarkable 67 per cent of those entitled to vote. But in northern areas of England, where hostility to the EU was intense, turnout was as high as 75 to 80 per cent of the electorate.

In British parliamentary elections, high turnouts don't matter since MPs fight in constituencies. It makes no difference if an MP is elected by a majority of one vote or a majority of 10,000. But in a referendum where the votes are counted nationally rather than by constituencies, each vote cast counts towards the final result. The Brexiters were simply better at galvanising their voters, and in getting them out to vote in larger numbers.

That is because the referendum was not only about Europe. It was, in effect, a typical British revolution: one without violence or bloodshed, but still inspired by a deep sense of frustration and executed with swift brutality.

Those who voted against the EU were largely white working-class voters, people for whom the European Union is regarded, not as an opportunity, but as a threat; workers who saw their jobs taken away by the hundreds of thousands of migrants from Central and Eastern Europe who poured into Britain over the past few years.

For employers and businessmen throughout Britain, this influx of relatively well-educated and highly motivated European workers was a huge advantage. They also made life easier for anyone living in Britain's big cities, since EU migrants depressed wages and generated new opportunities in service industries. It is always nicer to be served in a restaurant by a fresh-faced, smiling waiter from Poland than a surly English worker.


But while life inside the EU was good for Britain's upwardly mobile urban families, the story was different for working-class households and particularly for single, working-class, white young males with lower education levels.

In older days, such people could still hope to gain employment in the unskilled labour market. Today, however, Britain's unemployed are often unemployable as well, replaced by EU workers willing to take up any job and happy to get low pay. What in Britain is just a minimum wage is still a small fortune in, say, Romania.

For Britain's marginalised communities, warnings from Mr Cameron that departure would reduce investment, depress the value of the pound or reduce Britain's influence on the world stage were simply irrelevant. What such unemployed workers want is a stop to the ready supply of European labour and a recovery of their sense of identity; reassurance that Britain is still their country.

It was always pointless for British politicians to avoid discussing the question of immigration during the referendum campaign, since for most voters, the EU was all about unrestricted migration.

The referendum was also a revolution against Britain's established parties, none of which proved able to address the growing sense of resentment in rural communities or decaying post- industrial towns. The vote was also a rebellion against globalisation, a reminder that while the forces of global markets have created winners, they have also created many losers. The losers have votes, too, and are ready to use them.

Although Mr Cameron had to resign after losing his referendum gamble, it is not his ruling Conservative Party, but the opposition Labour, that has most to fear from this political uprising. Most of the Brexit votes came from areas that are rock-solid Labour parliamentary constituencies, from people who now feel Labour is no longer their standard bearer.

And Labour will find it difficult to regain these marginalised voters' trust, for there is another political movement competing for their loyalty.

The UK Independence Party (UKIP) was created to fight for Britain's withdrawal from the EU. With that achieved, UKIP could morph into a broader social justice movement, one based on largely English nationalism, one objecting to globalisation and immigration.

So, what began as just an anti-EU vote in Britain this week could well turn into a broader realignment of British politics, and a popular revolt in other EU countries exposed to similar problems.



Fear and frustration over immigration

Brexiters worry about how uncontrolled immigration from the EU is changing their country's character and putting pressure on its health and other social services.

Fury of the poor white working class

They resent foreigners competing for low-end jobs and forcing wages down.

Resentment of London

Voters in the north-east and Midlands resent being "preached at" by the well-off establishment in London about the potential wider economic downsides from Brexit when they have not benefited from the wealth created and centred in the capital.

Resentment of Eurocrats

Brexiters' cry of "taking back our country" resonated with voters who believe the UK can do better without EU red tape and contributions to its budget.

Brexit: The aftermath

EU founding states echo calls for quick divorce from Britain
Cameron slammed for holding Europe hostage till October, while fears of UK breaking up grow
The Sunday Times, 26 Jun 2016

BERLIN • Britain leaving the European Union promises to be a fraught divorce, with the first exchanges showing how breaking up will be hard to do after more than 40 years together.

Foreign ministers of EU's founding member states, gathering in Berlin for crisis talks yesterday, reiterated calls made by leaders soon after Britain's shock referendum outcome that London must begin the process of leaving "as soon as possible".

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker warned against foot-dragging now that Britain had made its choice, saying that Brexit would "not be amicable". But it should be quick, said German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who hosted the talks.

His French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault went as far as to call for British Prime Minister David Cameron, who has said he would resign by October, to make way for a new leader to manage the transition out of the union.

The call for haste piled pressure on Mr Cameron, who faces a plunging currency, wilting stock market and uncertainties over an already weakening economy. In addition, Moody's said Brexit could hurt Britain's economic prospects.

Fears of global economic contagion also hit US stocks, with the Dow Jones industrial average falling 3.39 per cent last Friday.

Thursday's vote also heightened fears of a break-up of the United Kingdom. Yesterday, Scotland's pro-EU First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, speaking after an emergency Cabinet session, said her devolved government was preparing to present legislation allowing a second independence referendum while continuing discussions on its place within the EU.

The EU's core members see Britain's shock decision as a threat to unity, and are eager to shore up the bloc. "We join together in saying that this process must begin as soon as possible so we don't end up in an extended limbo period but rather can focus on the future of Europe and the work towards it," Mr Steinmeier said.

However, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, trying to calm tensions, said the negotiations with Britain should not be conducted in such a way as to be seen as a deterrent to other countries, and that there was no hurry for London to trigger the process for leaving.

European Parliament president Martin Schulz called Mr Cameron's decision to wait until October to leave "scandalous", saying that he was "taking the whole (European) continent hostage".

Mr Ayrault also warned of the dangers of delay. "We have to give a new sense to Europe, otherwise populism will fill the gap," he said.

Eurosceptics in a number of member states have welcomed the vote by Britain to become the first sovereign state to leave the EU and have called for their own referendums.

Slovakia's far right People's Party yesterday launched a petition for a referendum on the country's future in the EU. "Citizens of Great Britain have decided to refuse the diktat from Brussels. It is high time for Slovakia to leave the sinking European 'Titanic' as well," the party said on its website.

The European Central Bank added to the pressure by saying Britain's financial industry, which employs 2.2 million people, would lose the right to serve clients in the EU unless the country signed up to its single market - anathema to "leave" campaigners who are set to lead the next government.

The Brexit vote has left Britain deeply divided, with many feeling more uncertain about their future.

Young people vented their anger yesterday against more eurosceptic older voters as they came to terms with a momentous decision to leave the EU, with the hashtag #NotInMyName trending on Twitter.

"I feel angry. Those who voted leave, they're not going to fight for the future," said Ms Mary Treinen, 23, a technological consultant.

Underscoring the anger, more than 1.5 million have signed a petition calling for a second referendum on the official British government and Parliament website - more than 10 times the 100,000 signatures required for a proposal to be discussed in the House of Commons, the lower house of Parliament.


Over 1.5 million ask: Could we try again, please
Petition for second referendum comes amid Google searches related to Brexit and the EU
The Sunday Times, 26 Jun 2016

LONDON • More than 1.5 million people have signed a petition calling for a second referendum after the "Leave" camp won a shock victory to pull Britain out of the European Union, an official website showed yesterday.

The website of the parliamentary petition at one point crashed due to the surge of people adding their names to the call for another nationwide poll following last Thursday's historic vote.

"We the undersigned call upon HM Government to implement a rule that if the remain or leave vote is less than 60 per cent based (on) a turnout less than 75 per cent, there should be another referendum," says the petition.

The Leave camp won the support of 51.9 per cent of voters, against 48.1 per cent in favour of remaining in the 60-year-old European bloc. The turnout for Thursday's referendum was 72.2 per cent.

Internet search giant Google reported sharp upticks in searches related not only to the ballot measure but also about basic questions concerning the implications of the vote after the referendum.

About eight hours after the polls closed, Google reported that searches for "what happens if we leave the EU" had more than tripled.

And despite the all-out attempts by both sides to court voters ahead of the referendum, Britons were mystified not only by what would happen if they left the EU - the most-searched question on Google in the UK - but also, many seemed not to even know what the EU is.

Google Trends tweeted that "What is the EU?" is the second top UK question on the EU since the #EURefResults were announced.

The result revealed stark divides between young and old, north and south, cities and rural areas, and university-educated people and those with fewer qualifications.

By 10pm Singapore time yesterday, some 1,554,000 people had signed the petition on the official government and Parliament website - more than 15 times the number required for the proposal to be discussed in Parliament."

Some are now regretting voting for Brexit.

"Even though I voted to leave, this morning I woke up and I just - the reality did actually hit me," one woman told ITV News.

"If I'd had the opportunity to vote again, it would be to stay."

However, Prime Minister David Cameron previously said there would be no second referendum.

And Leave campaign figurehead Boris Johnson had downplayed the idea of a new vote even before the referendum was held, irrespective of the result.

"I'm absolutely clear, a referendum is a referendum. It is a once in a generation, once in a lifetime opportunity and the result determines the outcome," he said.

"If we vote to stay, we stay, and that's it. If we vote to leave, we vote to leave, that's it. You can't have 'neverendums', you have referendums."



Political paralysis takes hold in Britain
At a critical juncture in the country's history, there is nobody to take charge and lead
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent In London, The Sunday Times, 3 Jul 2016

One could criticise the British for many things, but not for the stability of their political system, which routinely produced strong, decisive government.

No longer, for nobody seems to be in charge of Britain now. Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned, yet his replacement won't emerge for months, while the nation's currency and stock markets tumble. Opposition Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has been rejected by most of his MPs, but he refuses to go. Meanwhile, Britain's famed Parliament now resembles a mediaeval torture chamber in which top politicians either stab or get stabbed, while lesser politicians just get dismembered.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the referendum which resulted in Britain's departure from the European Union has unleashed a political revolution not experienced by the island state for at least a century. It is a typical, British-style revolution in which little blood flows and the monarchy, of course, remains untouched. But it's a revolution nevertheless, and one which leads into the unknown.

The EU referendum divided the nation between those wishing to remain in the EU and those wanting out. The vote also divided the English from the Scots, towns from the countryside and the young from the old. But the reality is that the EU referendum was only an attempt to paper over longstanding divisions within both the Conservative and Labour parties and, instead of doing that, it tore apart Britain's post-war political settlement.

Both of Britain's historic parties ultimately failed to reach a consensus on what Britain's role in Europe should be. The Conservatives, who brought Britain into Europe in 1973, initially hoped that EU membership would protect Britain's free markets, then under threat from socialism. And for precisely these reasons, Labour initially opposed the EU.

During the 1980s, however, the parties swopped roles: The Conservatives began to see the EU as a straitjacket on Britain's growing confidence and market economy, while Labour hailed the EU as the only protection trade unions had from Conservative capitalist reforms.

Yet as the new century dawned, one development made Europe toxic to everyone: mass migration, which brought an estimated 3.5 million EU citizens to Britain. For the Conservatives, hatred of the EU which made it impossible to control Britain's borders became an irrational obsession. And for Labour, the EU became a topic best avoided.

The economic case for EU migration was clear, but it was never articulated by the London-based elite. The result was that the left-behind voters, those marginalised by the EU, simply ignored both parties and voted to leave the Union. It was a disaster in the making for decades, but one which neither the Conservatives nor Labour foresaw.

The painful slap which Britain's electorate has just delivered comes on top of a historic decline for both big parties. As late as the 1990s, between 75 per cent and 85 per cent of the electorate voted either Labour or Conservative. But in the last two elections only 66 per cent supported the two giants of British politics; the last time either enjoyed a solid overall majority in Parliament was in 2001.

The parties have responded to their decline with a variety of gimmicks borrowed from American political life. It currently requires not more than £3 (S$5.30) and about five minutes to join the Labour Party online, for instance, and membership gives one the chance to select the party's leader.

But instead of making parties more inclusive, it made them more freakish, since those who bothered to join were less and less representative of the broad electorate. That's why someone like Mr Corbyn, a bearded radical who seldom leaves the comfort of his expensive London home and is far more interested in the fate of left-wing revolutions in Latin America than the plight of workers in industrial north England, still leads Labour despite the fact that his own MPs won't even talk to him.

And this is also why someone like former London mayor Boris Johnson, a man who has never been a Cabinet minister and has never held one position for more than a few weeks, could be regarded as a senior politician and even a future prime minister.

Britain's political parties not only failed to provide leadership to the nation; they also failed to protect themselves from being hollowed out from within.

The result is that, at precisely at this critical juncture in Britain's history, there is nobody to take charge. Those who orchestrated Britain's rejection of the EU have disappeared from public view, fearing that they may be called to account for the lies they peddled during their campaign.

Meanwhile, the biggest controversy in London is not about the country's future but, rather, about the largely irrelevant technical detail on when Britain should formally notify the rest of Europe of its intention to leave.

Just about the only consolation is that, as matters currently stand, Britain's next prime minister is likely to be Mrs Theresa May, an experienced and sensible politician. If she takes over, the positions of both head of state and head of the central government, as well as the leadership of both Scotland and Northern Ireland, will all be occupied by women.

After decades of political mismanagement by mostly men, that is a good idea.

Immigration blunders that led to Brexit
Britain's politicians were totally off on the number of migrants, but refused to admit it or put in checks
By Jonathan Eyal, Europe Correspondent, The Straits Times, 4 Jul 2016

LONDON • "Immigration was the key problem for the United Kingdom and will remain a key problem for you all." These were the parting words of British Prime Minister David Cameron to the leaders of other European Union countries as he attended the final summit of his political career.

Mr Cameron's counterparts avoided engaging with him on this point; instead, they preferred to talk about the British leader's personal responsibility for his country's decision to leave the EU.

Yet deep down, every European politician around that summit table knew that Mr Cameron was right. For the wretched story of Britain's exit from the EU should serve as a grim warning to governments around the world about what happens when the challenge of mass migration is either ducked, or badly handled by them.

It may be fashionable nowadays to dismiss Britons as a bigoted lot, prejudiced against foreigners and obsessed with their own nationalism. Yet that image is not only wrong, but also deeply unfair. For over the past two decades alone, Britain has admitted more than five million foreigners as permanent residents, hardly an inconsiderable number. London is, arguably, Europe's most cosmopolitan urban space, the first European capital to elect a Muslim mayor and probably the only big European city where residents are surprised not when they encounter foreigners, but when they actually get served in a shop or restaurant by a local Brit.

Paradoxically, Britain's current problem with immigrants - which led directly to the country's rejection of the EU - is not the result of bigotry but, as incredible as it may sound today, precisely because the Brits wanted to show the rest of Europe how open they can be. In effect, Britain knocked itself out of the continent after attempting to be more generous than the continent.

As late as the 1990s, the EU was not associated with migration: it was a club of 15 states, with more or less similar standards of living, and migration from the poorer EU members at that time - Greece, Portugal and Spain - was relatively low, thanks in part to the generous EU funding of infrastructure projects in those countries, which kept their people home.

But then came the EU enlargement to the former communist countries of Central and Eastern Europe, which between 2004 and 2007 brought into the bloc at least 12 new nations, most of them far poorer than the Western European average. The British government of then Prime Minister Tony Blair had the option at that time of restricting the movement of people from Eastern Europe for the first seven years after their countries joined the EU; that was written in the treaties which brought the countries into the union.

Yet instead of doing that, Mr Blair breezily announced that Britain would lead the way in Europe and open its frontiers immediately for all newcomers from Eastern Europe. The reason for this generosity was political: Mr Blair sought advantage in trumpeting Britain as a more enlightened country than Germany or France, which kept their immigration controls on East Europeans for the full seven years.

But Mr Blair was also influenced by a study provided by his own civil servants, which estimated that only 13,000 East Europeans would move to the UK each year after Britain's borders were flung open.

In fact, the civil servants had no precedent on which to work, and no relevant data at their disposal; they merely made up the figure of 13,000 based on various extrapolations, none of which would have survived the slightest scientific scrutiny. But neither the prime minister nor any other British minister asked how the figures were arrived at, and no civil servant volunteered that information either.

The result was a catastrophic miscalculation. Hundreds of thousands of East Europeans started arriving each year, from the first year the borders opened; between the time the first assessment was made in 2003 and today, at least 3.5 million people, mostly from Eastern Europe, settled in the UK.

Evidence that not all was well kept pouring into British government offices from all directions: the pressure on housing became acute, schools could not cope with the demand for spaces and daily wages in some sectors like construction fell by a whopping 50 per cent, as labour supply far outstripped local needs.

But successive British governments did nothing. The re-imposition of border controls, which would have been a possible response, was ruled out, since it would have signified an embarrassing admission of defeat. The local authorities were told to manage as best they can. And meanwhile, ministers in London were impressed by another study compiled by their civil servants, showing that, on average, East European migrants were 10 per cent more productive to the British economy than local citizens.

All true, but all largely irrelevant, since this totally ignored the broader social cost imposed by immigration. For the population in Britain's cities, the arrival of migrants from Eastern Europe boosted prosperity: it improved services, increased consumption and sustained rising property prices.

But for the millions of Brits stuck in the decaying old industrial towns of the north of England, for the true "heartlanders", immigration was an economic disaster. In the past, such people had to compete for work in a domestic market of just 64 million; today, they are asked to compete for work in a labour market almost 10 times bigger.

The result was economic decay and exclusion, as Britain's own unemployed also become permanently unemployable, replaced by East Europeans who were better educated, highly motivated and willing to do the job at a fraction of the cost. As British commentator Owen Jones poetically put it, the country's working class which used to be praised as the "salt of the earth" ultimately came to be treated as "the scum of the earth".

Yet bizarrely, the entire political class still refused to do anything. In what is by now one of the country's most iconic modern episodes, then Prime Minister Gordon Brown publicly dismissed as "bigoted" a middle-aged voter who, during the 2010 general election campaign, dared to ask him in polite terms what he proposed to do about East European migration. Yet current PM Cameron also maintained the same air of political correctness, by pretending that the problem is not migration as such, but the people who complain about it. The rebuke to Britain's rulers came during the EU referendum, when the so-called "scum of the earth" suddenly stood up and demanded to be heard.

British politicians have only themselves to blame for the debacle. But leaders of other EU countries would do well to draw the appropriate lessons from Britain's experience. The first lesson is that it's always better for politicians to admit if they are wrong about handling immigration and do something about it, rather than deny ownership of the mistake and continue as though nothing has happened, just in order to save a government's reputation.

Secondly, both politicians and civil servants ought to admit that when it comes to immigration, not everything can be computed or controlled and that, rather like birth rates or other patterns of human behaviour, trends remain unpredictable and unquantifiable, and caution is recommended.

Most importantly, however, European governments ought to remember that immigration is not only about ensuring adequate labour supply or sustaining economic efficiency; it's also about challenging existing national identities and community spirit, about maintaining the implicit contract between those ruling and those ruled. None of these elements can be expressed in statistics. But they are just as significant in deciding the level of immigration.

As Mr Jack Straw - the man who for over a decade was Home and then Foreign Secretary and therefore dealt with the problem from all its angles - recently remarked, Britain's experience with East European immigration was a "case study of how good intentions and apparently good research can lead a government in the wrong direction".

And, ultimately, can also result in a bleak outcome for an entire country.


Nigel Farage quits as Ukip leader

The Straits Times, 5 Jul 2016

LONDON • The leader of Britain's insurgent right-wing populist UK Independence Party (Ukip) says he is stepping down after realising his ambition to win a vote for Britain to leave the European Union.

The departure of brash former commodities trader Nigel Farage would sideline one of the most outspoken and effective anti-EU campaigners from the debate about how to sever Britain's ties with the other 27 countries in the bloc.

"I have never been, and I have never wanted to be, a career politician. My aim in being in politics was to get Britain out of the European Union," he said yesterday.

"So I feel it's right that I should now stand aside as leader of Ukip."

The referendum result marked a personal success for Mr Farage, who in the early 1990s helped to found a party later described by Prime Minister David Cameron as "a bunch of fruitcakes, loonies, and closet racists". That represented a misjudgment as the Prime Minister found himself having to turn more eurosceptic to maintain his party's appeal among voters, ultimately calling the referendum on EU membership which sank him.

Mr Farage helped to set up Ukip after then Prime Minister John Major signed the Maastricht Treaty, which paved the way for a more integrated EU.

He will remain a lawmaker in the EU Parliament that he joined in 1999, saying yesterday that he wanted to keep pressure on whoever is the next prime minister to take Britain out of the single market and cut immigration.

His resignation could give Ukip - which won a single seat in Parliament last year - a chance to pick a less polarising figure and take on the mainstream in what is likely to be a radically altered political environment. Ukip candidates placed second in scores of constituencies in the last general election, challenging the Conservatives across much of southern England and contributing to an erosion of support for Labour in working-class areas in the north.

Britain's two main political parties are in disarray after the vote to leave the EU, with the ruling Conservatives seeking a replacement for Mr Cameron and lawmakers from the main opposition Labour Party voting to withdraw confidence in leader Jeremy Corbyn.

It is the second time Mr Farage has resigned in just over a year. He quit in May last year when he failed to get elected to Parliament, only to reverse that decision three days later.

"During the referendum campaign, I said I want my country back. What I'm saying today is, 'I want my life back', and it begins right now," said Mr Farage, who has two teenage daughters with his wife Kirsten Mehr, a German citizen. "I won't be changing my mind again, I can promise you."

The government, which failed to convince voters that a Leave vote would cause economic harm, is now racing to reduce the damage.

Finance Minister George Osborne has abandoned his target of balancing the Budget within four years and floated the idea of a cut in corporate tax to 15 per cent from 20 per cent. The Labour Party accused him of trying to turn Britain into an offshore tax haven.





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