Will the Brexit gamble pay off? We may know for sure by 2057 | Letters

Supporters of leaving the EU celebrate as they watch results come in from around Britain on 24 June after the previous day's referendum

Supporters of leaving the EU celebrate as they watch results come in from around Britain on 24 June after the previous day’s referendum.
Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Larry Elliott’s article (Brexit Armageddon was a terrifying vision – but it simply hasn’t happened, 20 August) was a breath of fresh air. I speak as someone whose immediate family of five covered every opinion – remain, leave and abstain – but there was no animosity among us; we discussed our reasons in a civilised way and actually found there was quite a lot of agreement on most issues, albeit that we finally and narrowly voted differently, or not at all. I am proud of that. Since the result I have been appalled and depressed by the insults and derision thrown at leave voters, branding them all “racist bigots” and accusing them of “ruining our children’s future”. The hysterical media coverage and the self-righteous and self-congratulatory attitude of comedians and commentators has been unbelievable and shameful.

The sky didn’t fall in. We are rid of George Osborne and his promise of yet more austerity and a threatened recession. As Larry Elliott says, if nothing else it has forced the government to take a long hard look at the British economy, something that would not have happened without the shock administered by the referendum.

Of course there will be challenges and difficulties, but there would have been if we had stayed in an increasingly free-market Europe which has delivered high unemployment and austerity to so many of its citizens. The European project was a noble concept which has become increasingly dysfunctional. You can love Europe (and I do) without endorsing the EU, which is a political organisation.
Jill Rooney
Ashtead, Surrey

Larry Elliott’s depiction of our economy entering into some post-Brexit sunlit uplands defies belief. Equally absurd is his criticism of the EU for moving in a more free-market direction. It is the EU that has tried to mitigate the ravages of the free market so assiduously promoted by recent British governments. Does he really believe that Britain under Theresa May is going to enhance these rights and protections?

More disturbing is his bald statement that the European project has failed. Has it? It was set up to secure peace in Europe after half a century of terrible wars, and it has made and continues to make a vital contribution to peace. Now, as we face new threats from Isis and from Putin’s Russia, the EU is more necessary than ever before. Britain’s exit has profoundly weakened one of the main institutions providing peace and security in Europe.

Most disturbing of all, however, is Elliott’s desire to shake things up. Brexit has certainly done that. The rise in racism, xenophobia and fear have indeed shaken things up for millions of people in this country. In addition our country now faces the real risk of breaking up. But no doubt peace and security, racism and xenophobia and the breakup of the UK are a price worth paying for shaking things up.
Dr Shane O’Rourke
Department of history, University of York

The impact on savers is not mentioned in Larry Elliott’s rosy post-Brexit analysis. The Bank of England has had to lower interest rates, and more may come in the autumn. Pensioners relying on savings to supplement their pension will certainly feel that the sky has fallen in as they pay the price of sorting out the mess.
Ivan Laud
Ashbourne, Derbyshire

Please can we have a full two-page debate between Larry Elliott and William Keegan (Leavers should be ashamed of the harm that is yet to come, The Observer, 21 August).
Professor Mike Elliott
Leven, East Riding of Yorkshire

Economists, politicians and journalists on both sides of the Brexit debate should know better and refrain from claiming the moral high ground each time a data point seems to give weight to their side of the argument. A Nobel prize in economics is not necessary to know that the consequences of Brexit will be unknown for many years to come, and until then everything should be considered aleatory “noise”.

There will only be one undeniable reality with Brexit: the UK and the EU will at the same time become trading partners and economic competitors (for future foreign investment).

Once the new rules of engagement are finalised, it will require years of trials and tribulations to observe if the Brexit gamble pays off or not, the same way as it took decades to observe the relative economic decline of postwar Britain until, ironically, it joined the EU in 1973, with accession ratified in 1975 via referendum (please note the two-thirds majority) and oddly a majority of Conservatives favouring membership, a very split Labour party and an SNP totally against it.

Maybe 2057 will be the year when future generations decide that their ancestors’ “nearly-no-skin-in-the-game” gamble has not paid off (may they RIP), try to negotiate new terms for EU accession which will most likely be worse than the current ones from the early 1970s, and hold a referendum to WE-join the EU (assuming Scotland and Northern Ireland go their separate EU ways)?

As the saying goes, history tends to repeat itself. Will it once more?
Antero Touchard
Madrid, Spain

As an ironic joke I proposed the launch of Brexit TV following the 23 June referendum result, which would only show reruns of sitcoms and Carry On films from before the UK joined the EU. Little did I realise that the BBC would really take us back to the 1970s, with Porridge and Are You Being Served? returning to our screens (New gags for old lags and plenty of jokes about a certain pet cat – the BBC goes back to the 70s, 23 August).
Dr Alan Bullion
Tunbridge Wells, Kent

In recent months the Guardian has referred repeatedly, and incorrectly, to “article 50 of the Lisbon treaty”, most recently this week (Two months on, EU exit is still a long way off, 22 August). Let’s be clear: there is no such article. The Treaty of Lisbon has only seven articles. There is, however, Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. This is the provision – inserted by the Treaty of Lisbon – that governs withdrawal. It would be useful if we all make sure we’re reading and citing the right treaties.
David Phinnemore
Professor of European politics, Queen’s University Belfast

That Britain’s “divorce” from the EU will take time, as discussed in Jennifer Rankin’s article (‘An unimaginably hard task’: experts say divorcing EU will take 10 years, 17 August), is undisputed, but the government should not be allowed to establish trading relations with the rest of the world that would merely mirror those of the European Union. Many people voted to leave because they were opposed to treaties being made with third countries that had less to do with trade and more to do with the hegemony of transnational corporations in the shaping of the global economy. Institutions such as the IMF and the OECD supported the opposite view because they correctly understood that the EU was a cornerstone of the neoliberal status quo and would be weakened by Britain’s departure.

So steeped have we become in neoliberal ideology that we cannot envisage a trading system that is not predicated upon free trade agreements and the rules of the World Trade Organisation. However, and contrary to the views expressed in your article, there is no need for British trade officials to “preserve UK ties to the 65 countries that have a trade agreement with the EU”. Nor is there any compulsion to calculate what percentage of EU meat imports from South America accrue to the UK, or any other product for that matter. It is quite feasible to have international trade without prescriptive treaties.

Once it has extricated itself from the tentacles of the European commission’s trade mandate, Britain, as one of the world’s largest economies, has a unique opportunity to trade with the rest of the world on a less exploitative and more equitable basis. Making this happen represents a huge challenge to those of us who have campaigned for too long against the worst aspects of EU free trade deals, only to see them replicated in a post-Brexit UK.
Bert Schouwenburg
International officer, GMB

Jennifer Rankin points out that at the moment we have no idea what Brexit means and that our negotiations face formidable obstacles, especially in new trade deals with the EU and the rest of the world. When Theresa May tells us “Brexit means Brexit”, what she means is that the referendum verdict is final and irreversible. Indeed there is a widespread assumption that we are now bound to leave.

But there is nothing sacrosanct about a referendum vote. If circumstances change dramatically before the date of our departure, which is at least three years away – if, for example, there is a massive change of public opinion in favour of remain – there would be every justification for a second referendum. And there is a strong likelihood that opinion will change.

Most economists forecast a recession, and there are good reasons for pessimism. We are unlikely to follow Norway and remain members of the single market, as we would have to continue payments into the EU budget, could not regain control of our own borders, and would still be bound by EU regulations and directives, but without any say in their formulation.

As it becomes clear that we will be excluded from the single market, more and more companies are likely to relocate to the continent. Uncertainty about future trade agreements will be bad for business investment and for the value of the pound. Perhaps most seriously, our huge trade deficit is financed by foreign capital, which may well flow out if the pound weakens further. We could face a serious recession, and more severe austerity.

Leave campaigners promised us a glorious future outside the EU, with lots of extra money for the NHS. Before long, they may well feel they were sold a pup.
Dick Taverne
Liberal Democrats, House of Lords

Larry Elliott blames “project fear”, not Brexit, for undermining confidence. He is right that economists were nearly unanimous in opposing Brexit and he admits that it is still early days, but he is far too optimistic.

How many economists believed there would be an immediate disaster before we even knew when or how Brexit would take place (or even if it will take place, given that negotiations might yet prove so complicated that the next general election comes first)? Most economists believed that there would be long-term costs and that whether they were large or small would depend on the deal that was negotiated. (A Norway-type deal might not have much effect, but immediate exit before negotiating any trade deals would be disaster.) So far we simply do not know what those long-term costs are going to be because we do not know what the government will do or how the negotiations will go.

Larry Elliott picks out some seemingly good economic news. He omits the fact that, if it is not reversed (and it is not clear why it should be), the fall in the value of sterling has reduced our living standards permanently. The eventual cost could be much higher.

As for the short term, if “City economists” were forecasting immediate Armageddon, perhaps the lesson is that journalists should pay less attention to them and should listen more to academic economists. There were academic economists pointing out that short-term movements, which depend heavily on expectations, are hard to forecast. Maybe economists should have forecast a U-turn in policy towards the deficit (after six years when people who questioned the importance of reducing the deficit were ridiculed), that a sharp fall in the exchange rate would cause consumers to buy imported goods before prices rose, or that Olympic success would induce a feelgood factor, though it might be better to leave such speculations to City economists, concerned as much with day-to-day fluctuations in financial markets as with long-term prosperity.
Roger Backhouse
Professor of the history and philosophy of economics, University of Birmingham

For the last decade, I’ve worked on economic and foreign policy issues related to South Korea, and prior to that studied for my MPhil at LSE. As a result, I’ve had a fondness for both South Korea and the United Kingdom. Over the years, as I’ve focused on South Korea professionally, I’ve often wondered why South Korea couldn’t be more like the UK. Needless to say, I was somewhat surprised by Christian Spurrier’s suggestion that the UK should look to South Korea for inspiration on how to prosper post-Brexit (Want proof that Britain can thrive after Brexit? Look at South Korea, 22 August).

For developing nations around the world, South Korea should be an inspiration. Turning a war-torn, resourceless country into one of the world’s most developed economies in a generation’s lifetime is one of the most significant achievements of the second half of the 20th century. Seoul’s success is demonstrable proof that countries can chart a better future, but it’s less clear that it offers lessons for advanced economies like the UK.

South Korea aspires to be everything most took for granted about the UK before Brexit. It is moving towards becoming more multicultural and is actively seeking to attract the world’s best and brightest. Immigration is a necessity for South Korea. It wants to connect to the Eurasian continent and has pursued free trade agreements with the US and the EU for the very reason of injecting reforms into its economy to help boost it to the heights of an economy like the UK’s. If Spurrier wants South Korea to be the model for the post-Brexit UK, perhaps he needs only to look to the pre-Brexit UK for the way forward.
Troy Stangarone
Senior director, congressional affairs and trade, Korea Economic Institute

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