Thursday, July 2, 2020

four years later, a "poorer UK" but without "regrets"

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Chronic. It has already been four years since the British voted on June 23, 2016 to leave the European Union (EU). Between the pandemic, the increasing aggressiveness of Beijing and the erratic American president, we almost forgot, but this earthquake imperceptibly shook the tectonic plates of world geopolitics. The UK officially left the EU on 1er February, but trade relations will not change until 1er January 2021, at the end of the transition period, under conditions which are still being negotiated.

Nothing has changed, but everything has changed. Brexit is one such event, the consequences of which will be very profound but very slow. After the noise and fury of recent years, it is time for a first assessment of its real consequences.

First lesson: the British do not (really) regret their decision. All polls indicate that 90% of those who voted in the referendum would make the same choice, whether for or against Brexit. A small minority of each side has changed their minds but they cancel each other out.

On the other hand, those who did not vote in 2016 are now clearly on the pro-European side. All in all, this gives a slight majority of Britons, around 55%, who believes that leaving the EU was a mistake. This opinion has been stable since the summer of 2017, said John Curtice, survey specialist at the University of Strathclyde. The regret, if it exists, is very marginal, and essentially indicates a country still as divided. The total absence of a celebration of the fourth anniversary – admittedly at the end of confinement – speaks volumes, however, about the general lack of enthusiasm, now that the abscess is gone.

European immigration in free fall

Second lesson: immigration has changed provenance. Immigration, and the steady stream of Europeans settling in the UK over the past fifteen years, largely explained the victory of Brexit. Four years later, net immigration (number of arrivals minus number of departures, including British nationals) has changed little: 270,000 people in 2019, down from just over 300,000 at the time of the referendum.

On the other hand, the provenance of immigrants has been turned upside down. European immigration is in free fall, with a net flow of only 50,000 non-British Europeans in 2019, four times less than in 2016. Poles, in particular, are now more likely to leave the UK than to settle there. Conversely, the net balance of migrants from the rest of the world almost doubled, with 282,000 people in 2019.

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