June 15, 2016

Hug a Brit and stop Brexit?

#HugABrit (photo: #HugABrit)
In the course of history, perfidious Albion has often managed to irk poor Continentals, and, as the latest opinion polls point towards Brexit, the outcome of the referendum on June 23 is likely to be no different.

Given the regulatory headaches and higher labour costs that this vote would entail, it would be hard to find any major retailer or fmcg manufacturer who welcomes it. However, few have been prepared to alienate half of their customers by following Asda CEO Andy Clarke – still in a job until July 11 – in openly declaring for "Remain".

Admittedly, the inflation likely to result from a big fall in sterling and the higher unemployment from a loss of business with the EU (currently amounting to 44.6 per cent of the UK's exports of goods and services) could well benefit Aldi and Lidl as Little Englanders feel the pinch in their pockets. But even for the German discounters Brexit would be a mixed chalice.

Their low-cost business model, based on unified European systems, would have to change labels and packaging to meet local regulations. Both Aldi and Lidl UK proudly assert that around two-thirds of their assortment comes from British suppliers, which means that they would face import duties and higher exchange rates on the rest.

#HugABrit (photo: #HugABrit)
Meanwhile, given that the UK has a 17.6 per cent share in the EU economy, a probable fall in the value of the euro and a rise in the Swissie as a safe haven for investors would increase cross-border shopping from Switzerland into Germany. This would hit Swiss retail giants Migros and Coop Schweiz even harder than today.

So how can one get these recalcitrant Brits to vote for Remain next week?

David Cameron, George Osborne, Barack Obama, Christine Lagarde, Mario Draghi, Jean-Claude Juncker, Daniel Macron and Wolfgang Schäuble have all tried threats: The pound will collapse; the UK will be thrown into economic and constitutional chaos; unemployment and inflation will rise to giddy heights; mortgage rates will rise, but house prices will fall (!); pensions will melt away; and even NATO allies will no longer provide full information on potential terrorist attacks.

#HugABrit (photo: #HugABrit)
These ignoble scare tactics, which UK prime minister Cameron also used during the Scottish referendum, have surely backfired. Brexiteers can now argue that, if friends in the EU would refuse to pass on all relevant security information, then they were never really friends at all.

Former Kingfisher CEO and now government adviser Ian Cheshire, a pro-European himself, is surely a rock of calm and reason in a sea of hyperbole. As he has pointed out, the EEC prospered before 1973 without Britain, and neither the EU nor the UK will face catastrophe in the event of a "Leave" vote.

The scaremongering of the UK and global elite clearly reveals their preference for the stick rather than the carrot and a tremendous misreading of the British character. They also seem remarkably unhappy for electors to decide their own fate or have any faith in their intelligence. What these highly-paid officials fail to understand, however, is the stubbornness of the natives, especially when pressurised by outsiders.

#HugABrit (photo: #HugABrit)
In the wake of the MP expenses scandal in 2009 etc., most UK voters would be the first to admit that their own government in Westminster is corrupt and unaccountable. But the existence of a further layer of politicians within the European bloc hasn't succeeded in making all Brits sing Beethoven's Ode to Joy, despite the considerable taxpayers' money that has been spent on convincing them to the contrary.

Looking at the latest opinion polls, there is a high level of dissatisfaction with the EU, which is often regarded as a mere talking shop designed to promote the interests of French farmers and German carmakers. There is also much resentment at being a long-term net contributor to the EU budget.

Last but not least, Brussels is seen as virtually synonymous with bureaucracy, hindering British entrepreneurs from forging business deals with the rest of the world. Small businesses in particular clamour for the removal of import VAT.

If one combines this scepticism with a general malaise as to the lack of direct representation in an increasingly globalised world and with worries about national sovereignty and the security of one's own borders in a seemingly unsolvable migrant crisis, then one has the perfect recipe for Brexit.

#HugABrit (photo: #HugABrit)
EU officials have also done a very bad job at conveying their policies in the past. Striving for ever closer political union, they have not brought citizens on board in the UK and a number of other disaffected countries including Greece – hence their panic that Brexit could prove contagious. At the end of the day, they have only themselves to blame.

Getting 28 nations to agree on anything obviously demands long and detailed negotiations, but once agreement has been reached, there is considerably less red tape for all concerned. EU officials have signally failed to get any such message over.

The other side, however, has also made a poor showing. Brexiteers seem unable to provide a credible financial and economic alternative to staying in. In comparing the centralization policies of Brussels with those of Napoleon and Hitler, "Out" campaign figurehead Boris Johnson has plumbed new depths in bad taste, while UKIP's Nigel Farage has tub-thumped from his "battle wagon" instead of at his local pub.

So, as Brexit looks increasingly likely, how could "Remain" supporters still triumph next Thursday? As his yachts grew longer and Toscanashire tan deepened, at least former premier Edward Heath promised the populace cheap plonk in 1973, although, needless to say, this never materialised.

#HugABrit (photo: #HugABrit)
What could the pro-EU camp offer British voters today in exchange for the Beatles, John Cleese, David Beckham, Kate Moss or Elizabeth II? German efficiency in the NHS, French cuisine in British canteens, Italian fashion, or more sunshine hols in Spain?

One German lady has come up with an idea that is not without charm. Under the social media campaign #HugABrit, Ms Katrin Lock advises all continentals to spontaneously embrace any UK nationals they happen to meet in the hope that this will make them change their mind about Europe. Given the not very sensuous nature of your average Brit, these "love bombs" probably won't work, but they are certainly a far better bet than threatening Armageddon...


Related articles in German: By Mike Dawson in Lebensmittel Zeitung, no.s 8, 14, 16, 21, & 22, on 28.02.16, 08.04.16, 22.04.16, 27.05.16 & 03.06.2016.


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