I didn’t vote in the EU referendum last month. Perhaps living in the UAE for 10 years has given me a real detachment from my homeland, and perhaps also because it wasn’t like we would actually vote to leave, would we?
But now, as the shattered Bremain camp schlep through the five stages of grief – simultaneously, so it seems – facts must be faced.
These facts are clear: the June 23 referendum was free and fair, the bewildered bloc is almost begging for a speedy divorce, and neither of Prime Minister David Cameron’s probable successors have expressed the wish to run back to the sucker-laden tentacles of Brussels.
The decision of more than 17 million Britons to leave the European Union was not, as the Liberal left imply, a vote for racism and xenophobia, any more than opting for Remain was a vote for the big banks and the establishment – although that could certainly be argued.
Instead, as voting maps show, the referendum was a mandate from those thousands of “little people” who live worlds apart from the glittering streets of London and hallowed halls of Westminster.
The people far from the madding crowd, who Thomas Gray described in his Elegy as those who “kept the noiseless tenor of their way.” The people who feel they’ve too long been left high and dry by lofty, unelected Eurocrats dictating a planet-sized plethora of petty, bewildering rules from afar, slowly turning a proud nation that once helped defeat tyranny and despair into a submissive, kowtowing client state.
It’s a vote of independence, sovereignty and freedom from thousands of small business owners, farmers, and the working class, worn down by years of freewheeling immigration policies that have long lowered wages and strained public services.
The disconnect between EU power and British people is easily shown by statistics. National turnout in the UK’s European parliament elections stood at 35.6 percent in 2014, a figure little changed from dismal showings in previous ballots. Among established EU member states in western Europe, only the Portuguese showed less interest. By contrast, turnout on June 23 stood at 72.2 percent.
With this in mind, here are some quick pointers as to why Arabs can look forward to a post-EU Britain:
Future trade deals:
So far, 11 countries have nodded at fresh trade deals with the UK – no strings from Brussels attached. These include Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Iceland and India.
Unique among most European states, Britain exercises a certain amount of diplomatic clout from its 53-member Commonwealth, an organization mostly made up of former colonies. And its monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, is still head of state of 16 countries, including her own.
As the shattered Bremain camp schlep through the five stages of grief – simultaneously, so it seems – facts must be facedPaul J. Crompton
With their vast natural resources high in demand from a very resource-hungry nation, Gulf states could easily benefit too. Late last month, economists and experts from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Bahrain - four of the six states that make up the Gulf Cooperation Council - told me that for better or for worse, the Gulf was in a good position to benefit from a post-Brexit Britain.
“The EU and UK are going to be under greater economic pressure than before, meaning that if the GCC countries play their cards right they can get more favorable terms in economic deals, such as trade and investment agreements,” said Omar al-Ubaydli, a Bahraini economist.
His comments were echoed by Tim Fox, the chief economist of the UAE’s biggest lender, Emirates NBD, who said a day after the Brexit vote that Britain’s now likely exclusion from the long-stalled free trade agreement between the EU and GCC “may actually breathe new life into the UK's trading relationships with the Gulf, as well as with other parts of the world.”
Britain’s poorer friends in North Africa can also benefit from Brexit, a triumphant-sounding Crispin Blunt, the chairman of the UK Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Select Committee, wrote last week.
A “nimble and independent trade policy executed straight from London” would far outweigh the “cumbersome mechanisms of Brussels,” Blunt said.
“Now Britain will be free of Greek, Italian, and Spanish lobbying that prevented us from increasing Tunisian olive oil imports to support the fragile North African economy,” he added.
“Now Britain will be unencumbered by country of origin requirements that stopped us concluding trading arrangements with Jordan as they develop long-term economic solutions to the pressures of forced migration.”
While the global weapons trade is not the sort of industry you’d want to push in public (unless you’re Nicholas Cage’s tormented character from Lord of War) sadly, in a time where ISIS and other terrorist groups threaten just about everyone, it’s more important than ever.
Britain is the world’s sixth largest arms exporter, and the fifth largest economy overall. The Middle East market makes up nearly two-thirds of the UK’s lucrative weapons export business, with arms going to the governments of Algeria, Libya, and Egypt as well as the Gulf.
While the EU has criticized the UK’s deals with Saudi Arabia, the world’s second largest arms buyer, its two most powerful states, France and Germany, have been up to the exact same business. With the ever-protectionist bloc looking ever deeper into itself, a free-trade deal between the UK and multiple Arab states would help both sides.
The EU’s current immigration madness - and I’m not referring to the well-meaning but insane open-door policy of Europe’s real ruler Angela Merkel - was perhaps best summed up back in February from an unlikely source: a 16-year-old schoolgirl.
Speaking out from the audience on a BBC panel show, Lexie Hill, who wasn’t old enough to vote in the EU referendum, scolded a stony-faced parliamentarian:
“[Under current EU rules] we can have someone unskilled within Europe coming in without any questions, but a really talented doctor from India has to go through a really intensive process,” she said to wide applause. “It doesn't make sense.”
Lexie’s argument was one that many want to say but can’t, because it could be seen as racist. But she exposed one of the most gaping flaws of the current Brussels-imposed system: it’s long been hard for a qualified and accomplished professional from outside the EU to just come and work.
Yet until the EU slammed the doors on most foreign migrants earlier this year, it was remarkably easy to come as a very questionable ‘refugee’ on the back of a lorry, aided by an enormous illicit people-smuggling network the bloc unintentionally encouraged.
That’s not to say that immigrants do not provide the most enormous benefits to British society, a fact that many media outlets are very quick to point out. But there are rather less positive things to say about our immigration system. According to an Oxford study last month, “three quarters of EU citizens in the UK would not meet current visa requirements for non-EU overseas workers if Britain left the bloc.”
When (and if) the EU’s freedom of movement rules are trashed, the UK would have the freedom to welcome in the world’s best, brightest, and crucially, its neediest. The current system hinders both.
Whether you’re in favor of Brexit or passionately against it, let’s not kid ourselves – the upcoming divorce is going to be bitter and painful. But as everyone who’s emerged from an unhappy relationship knows, there is hope through all the tears.
And Britain’s powerful place in the world ensures there’s hope for all.
Paul J. Crompton is a journalist for Al Arabiya News in Dubai. He regularly writes features, profiles, and analyses on business, security and geopolitical issues and specializes in the history of the Middle East. Paul received his bachelor’s degree from the American University of Sharjah in the UAE. He has lived in the region for 11 years.