Truth to be told, they have never been truly ‘‘in’’: their coin, left-hand drive, and metric system, to mention just a few of their peculiarities. Their essence is antithesis: the first ones to give women the right to vote, the first one to wear miniskirts, and the first ones to have a sewage system. Yet, no other country is as conservative as them. They have maintained close ties with the former empire if we think of the Commonwealth, a firm monarchy on the throne, parades and gun salutes on every occasion. The question is: have they ever felt European? They have never suffered domination, and geographic and intellectual independence is part of their DNA. Now, they are leaving the European scene and all its diatribes, aware of the significant imbalance they are provoking. Nonetheless, we need to understand whether this historic turn is actually favorable to them, considering that the thorniest issue of all is finance, which London transformed into the core of both European and overseas economies. Yet, many citizens have rushed to sell pounds and buy euros. Perhaps there are signs that not everything is fine, considering also that the decisive votes have been very few.
For an insight into the Brexit, we have interviewed Professor Luigino Bruni, economist and historian of economic thought, author of numerous publications and currently Professor of Political Economy at the LUMSA University of Rome.
Prof. Bruni, British citizens decided the leave the EU – albeit thanks to a handful of votes -. Are they really aware of what is at stake here?
“It does not seem so, otherwise they would have remained, because this decision will only harm them: within a year, we will see the consequences, especially for the lower middle classes, certainly not for the banks in London. Today is a day of mourning, especially for the English liberal tradition that had been teaching the world – at least since Hume and Smith – that there is no good future for the economy and democracy without openness and cooperation. This is a great involution, an anachronistic and nostalgic choice of an empire that no longer exists. England is making the same choice Venice made in ‘500, when instead of understanding that the world had changed and that the axis was moving out of the Mediterranean, kept looking behind, at its ancient glories, and missed the chance to realize a grand unification of the Italian cities. Thus began its inexorable decline.”
Can it actually become a debacle threat for the European macro-economy?
“Europe should stand up well to this crisis. Actually, Great Britain is the most exposed to risks, because it will be much more vulnerable and exposed to large international speculations, which have already begun. Just think of what is going on in the exchange markets around the world: the pound hit a 30-year low.”
As for micro-economy, what shall the ordinary citizen expect?
“If (she) is a British citizen and a salaried employee belonging to the working class, (s)he should not expect happy times because Britain is gradually becoming a tax heaven that attracts investment funds, but the poor will certainly not benefit from them. The whole operation has two large motivations: London and the “belly”; London does not want Europe’s constraints anymore in terms of financial speculation and wants to transform more and more into a kind of high-profile Panama. Then there is the “belly” of the British people – especially that of the elderly – who are afraid of refugees and migrants. Yet, greed and fear have never fathered clever, good children.”
Brexit has rekindled Scotland’s and Ireland’s independence spirit. Do you think it might become a step in that direction?
“Certainly things are getting more complicated and were already complicated inside the UK. Nevertheless, the international scenario is what becomes the most complicated. We are throwing away 70 years of hard work, building the European structure, the blood of so many British soldiers buried in European cemeteries, and the hopes of a European Union that would serve as a model to Africa, South America, and other countries.”
What is Brexit’s likely impact on Italy? Will the country be able to recoup possible economic shocks?
“It is too early to tell anything in this regard, but it will heavily depend on European scenarios. Nonetheless, I am not happy these days: there is a lot of sadness among those who believe that peace is never guaranteed, and that you can destroy overnight things that required at least three generations to be built. The builders of Babel, and the builders of the ark of Noah are always next to each other: today, the builders of the Tower of Babel have won.”
What about the EU citizens who want to work or study in the UK? Shall they prepare to restrictions?
“This situation is still blurry, but we ought to tell that it has become more and more difficult to do so, especially in recent years, when students have begun to pay over 10,000 pound a year for advanced courses. Britain began to take distance from Europe a long time ago: this referendum, if “Remain” had won, might have paradoxically triggered a trend reversal and the beginning of a new era. Yet, all these scenarios are nothing but ifs and buts. June 24, 2016 will remain a crucial date in the European history and, unfortunately, no one – especially British people – will remember it as a nice one.”