Opinion

How I learned to stop worrying and love Brexit

LONDON — For what possible reason would a Belgian national, who grew up at the same time as the European institutions, want to become a British citizen? And why would he want to do that just as his new country is busy untangling itself from the European Union?

The answer is simple, and surprisingly unpopular: Im convinced Brexit will be a success.

I didnt always think so. I came to the country in 1985 as a foreign correspondent, and I always thought the U.K. was happy with its tailormade status — one foot in the EU, one foot out. In June 2016, I was a convinced Remainer. I wanted the country to stay in the bloc, and I was sure my side would easily come out on top.

After the referendum went the other way, I became aware of a negative attitude among my friends in Brussels and, beyond that, of Europeans in general. The prevailing feeling was that there could be no salvation outside the EU, that a country that has cast off its moorings to chart a new course in open waters is doomed to become “the sick man of Europe” again, like it was in the 1960s and 70s.

But as the aftermath of the Brexit vote deepens divisions within the U.K., as well as between the country and the rest of Europe, I started to realize that Britains detractors have got it wrong.

Britains European colleagues have underestimated the attractiveness of a U.K. outside the EU in the eyes of foreign investors, particularly from emerging countries.

Yes, Brexit might be economically and diplomatically damaging in the short term, whatever the outcome of the Withdrawal Agreement. But in the long term, the U.K. will win the Brexit battle.

The country will be free to forge a new global destiny and out-compete its European rivals.

The countrys acceptance of social and class inequalities, the total deregulation of the labor market, its pool of cheap labor, the weakening of trade unions and the reduced scope of its welfare state may be anathema to most Europeans. But together they will offer an advantage to a nation that has always been Darwinian and believed in the survival of the fittest.

Britains European colleagues have underestimated the attractiveness of a U.K. outside the EU in the eyes of foreign investors, particularly from emerging countries.

British Prime Minister Theresa May | Andy Rain/EPA

The U.K., free from economic nationalism, has not hesitated to sell the finest jewels in its industrial crown to the highest bidder. What other country would have given up entire parts of its nuclear industry to the Chinese in this way?

Foreign banks, too, will remain in the City of London, the leading international financial center, with its critical mass of well-established, fluent English-speaking professionals from across the world who make use of the flexibility of common law. Frankfurt, Paris or Dublin are no match for London and wont be able to dethrone it.

Liberated from the EUs regulatory constraints, the City could become an “offshore” platform on the EUs doorstep, channeling funds from all over the world, particularly from countries like China.

The paradox of Brexit is that the defeated — the Remainers — ultimately stand to win the most.

The educated, cosmopolitan professional classes of London and southeast England — most of who voted to stay — will be at the forefront of tomorrows economy, which will essentially be a knowledge economy based on the countrys universities, media prowess, soft power and culture.

The working classes who voted to leave the EU, meanwhile, stand to become Brexits biggest losers. But the shock will be mitigated by increased foreign industrial investment in the north, Midlands or Wales. Outside of the EU, the U.K. will still be attractive economically.

Outside of the bloc, the U.K. will not be a better country. But it will be a different country — and it will be a real wake-up call to an EU on the brink of implosion.

Its to the U.K.s great credit that, unlike in Ireland and France — where voters were ignored when they cast a Euroskeptic ballot and were forced to try again — the British political establishment has chosen to respect the voice of the people.

Its this conviction that led me this week to my town hall in Kensington & Chelsea, where I became a British citizen.

I kept my Belgian passport for sentimental reasons. But now, I can participate fully in the political life of a nation in the process of reinventing itself.

Outside of the bloc, the U.K. will not be a better country. But it will be a different country — and it will be a real wake-up call to an EU on the brink of implosion.

Marc Roche is a Belgian journalist and author of “Le Brexit va réussir” (Albin Michel, September 2018).

This article was translated from the French by Esther King.

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