Not long before the referendum on whether Britain should leave the EU, there was a plebiscite about what to name its newest oceanographic research vessel. To the amusement of the rest of the world, the winning name was ‘Boaty McBoatface’. However, that election result was not enacted, whereas the UK government is treating the Brexit election result as binding. The rest of the world, at least as judged by its various stock markets, was not amused.
On the news there’s been a lot of talk about the so-called ‘regrexit’ theory that many Britons who voted ‘Leave’ were casting ‘protest votes’: expecting that ‘Remain’ would win by a significant margin (despite the polls), they felt their votes wouldn’t affect the election’s result, so even though they wanted ‘Remain’ to win, they voted ‘Leave’ as a signal of their dissatisfaction of the status quo. So, what if the UK government had enacted the earlier vote? If the British had had to put up with having their premier oceanographic ship being named Boaty McBoatface to the derision of the rest of the oceanographic community, that would have been a lesson that votes do matter. If the regrexit theory is correct, then the English are learning that lesson with the very consequential Brexit vote, and it’d have been much better if they’d have learned it from the vote about the boat.
However, it’s worth considering the possibility that the regrexit theory is wrong and the English aren’t as dumb as they look. Sure, the finance sector is going to see a lot of its jobs move to Paris, Dublin, Brussels, etc., but most Britons don’t work in finance, and I’m betting that majority thought they would like the consequences of a weaker pound: British goods now appear cheaper to the rest of the world, so British manufacturing will see a boost, and that’s enough reason to vote ‘aye’ on the Exit. This argument doesn’t get much traction from economists, but those who believe it are sincere in their ‘Leave’ votes — even if you can easily counter it, it’s by no means a frivolous argument.
OK, the economic ramifications of the Brexit can (and surely will) fill a book, but what about the political ramifications? I find it stunning that one of the most powerful positions in the world, the prime minister of the UK, is now one which seemingly no-one wants! David Cameron has announced that he’s going to resign. Boris Johnson, Brexit’s most prominent cheerleader and Cameron’s expected successor, has said he’s not going to run. I expected him to be waltzing his way to 10 Downing St. on rhetoric of how Brexit was the first step to Britain’s upcoming new golden age. Nigel Farage, head of the UKIP, who has just led that party to the achievement of its primary raison d’etre (huge success!), is resigning his post. Regrexit appears to strike these politicians hard. Why aren’t Johnson and Farage, the ostensible winners here, riding their chariot in a victory lap? Instead they’re slinking off as if they lost. I do not understand this.