Divided Britain will be weaker, poorer after looming Brexit

Opinion piece (The Asahi Shimbun)
23 January 2019

With the March 29 deadline for Britain's leaving the European Union fast approaching, it is still uncertain whether the exit will be a hard or a soft one. The Asahi Shimbun interviewed Charles Grant, the head of a British think-tank, to ascertain what can be expected from the Brexit as well as the possible economic impact and other effects.

I don't think that whatever Japanese political leaders say makes much difference.

If no deal is a very bad thing for Japan then you should say that because it will help to persuade public opinion not to pursue a disastrous course of action.

The least bad scenario would still kick our GDP by 2 percent. May's deal would be worse and an even more worse scenario could probably be a 6 percent loss.

I think that a no-deal Brexit would be disastrous for the British economy. How disastrous would depend on the extent to which the EU agrees to reduce the worst sorts of damage on citizens and businesses by doing little mini deals on aviation, on borders, on citizens' rights, on insurance contracts.

Remain is the best option for the British economy and for Britain's voice in the world. At the moment, most people are focused on the political rather than the economic components of Brexit, unfortunately.

Public opinion has not shifted significantly, there has been a small shift to remain but not a big enough push to make it certain that we would win even if there is a referendum.

The Tory party is mostly an anti-EU party and for Brexit.

Tory skeptics would want the EU ship to sink. But unfortunately it's not sinking. Most countries, Britain being an exception, know that it's good for them. Support for the EU has gone up in most of the EU states since the Brexit referendum.

Euro skeptics are not actually as extreme as the British ones, they don't want to leave it. Marine Le Pen (leader of the French National Front) said recently we will stay in it and reform it from the inside.

Britain leaving the EU without a deal is unlikely because a majority in Parliament is against it. Parliament has enough influence to prevent that from happening through forcing the government to ask for an extension of Article 50 or a referendum or a Norway-type deal, where Britain will be in the single market.

If Parliament wants a general election or referendum, then the EU would agree to extend Article 50 (concerning the deadline for the exit).

A general election is very unlikely because the Tories won't want it because they won't win. They are split four ways.

After the election you would come back to the same options you had before.

May doesn't want a second referendum, but she might change her mind.

May might say: my deal or no deal. Parliament would amend the legislation to insert a third question for remain on the ballot paper. So that would be one way for a referendum to happen.

I think that the referendum (in 2016) woke up important splits. A split between the metropolitan classes, the educated classes who are internationally minded who support migration, trade and multi-lateralism and the left-behind classes in smaller towns and the countryside who saw no real benefits of globalization.

Boris Johnson and (Jacob) Rees-Mogg went to Eton, which is an elite school, but they are appealing and attractive to left-behind people. I think both of them are mendacious and lie a lot, but they do have personalities. They are individualistic and are appealing and attractive despite their elite background. They are both upper-class populists.

I think it will stay a divided country for a generation or more. Whatever happens, whether there is a referendum, a no deal, or a deal, we will remain a divided country. We are very like America, with the blue and red America.

Britain has used the EU to amplify its voice in the world. It has been a leader in the Iranian nuclear deal talks and on the Russian sanctions on Ukraine.

On our own, we will still be quite influential because we have a seat on the U.N. Security Council, but less influential than we were.

Without Britain's expertise on terrorism or security, foreign policy and defense cooperation, the EU is quite a lot weaker.

Many of the Brexiteers are not actually small-minded nationalists. The Tory party, for all its faults, is not a Trumpian party. Britain will be weaker and poorer and less influential but it won't cut itself off from the world in my view.

Charles Grant is director of the Centre for European Reform, a British think tank. He previously worked for The Economist as its Brussels correspondent and defense editor.