Britain’s referendum result on exiting the EU has been met with a flurry of responses from politicians and financial markets. The almost uniform negativity of the responses would, by itself, alarm the average global citizen. But I smell a rat.
I have a simple maxim that has served me well in life – when you want to know who won and who lost, listen for the most negative response. They are the losers.
The financial markets are being driven by the political arena and when there are sharp movements in financial prices it usually means that investors are overreacting, which always presents opportunities.
The current political narrative is that Brexit is a disaster for Britain as the EU will be closed for trade and employment and will also no longer benefit from being part of a large market and political block. Not only that, but we’re told that Brexit will now trigger the break-up of Britain as Scotland and Northern Ireland secede. But is this the only possible scenario? Could there be other scenarios from which one could profit?
Let us look at the idea that Britain will suffer. Using nominal numbers from last year, Britain has the second highest GDP in the EU after Germany. Its GDP is about 24 per cent larger than that of France, which holds the No 3 position. In terms of per-capita GDP, Britain ranks sixth, ahead of Germany, which is ninth, and France, which is 11th.
Britain’s GDP growth rate was 30 per cent greater than Germany’s and nearly double that of France. As for unemployment, Britain’s rate ranks as third lowest after Germany and the Czech Republic.
What about what Britain has to gain, net, from the EU?
There are a lot of numbers being thrown around, mostly because the gross gain and most of the gross benefit that Britain gives and gets are hard to compute. One detailed analysis earlier this year by The Telegraph estimates that the net contribution by Britain to the EU is about €11 billion (Dh44.73).
That makes for the argument that in terms of the economy Britain has far less to lose than the EU. Perhaps Britain will lose political clout? Let us take a look. Britain is arguably the closest ally to the world’s most powerful nation – the United States of America. As part of its close relationship with the US, Britain is part of the Five Eyes, a global alliance that shares intelligence information. With America as the lead member in the Five Eyes and Britain as the only EU member, that is another major loss for the EU in these difficult times.
Let us not forget the Commonwealth, an organisation of 53 countries that gives Britain a tremendous advantage in trade outside the EU, especially with emerging markets. Britain is also one of only five permanent members of the United Nation’s Security Council, giving it the power to veto major UN resolutions. Finally, Britain’s military is rivalled only by France’s in the EU.
So, the starting point for Britain does not seem to be nearly as weak as the current narrative would have us believe. But what does the future hold? Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, has turned completely hostile, and I would argue hysterical, to Britain and is demanding that it invoke Article 50, which begins the maximum two-year process for Britain to exit. Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany has been much more balanced. Why the difference?
One reason is that Britain simply does not have to invoke Article 50 unless it wants to. If Mr Juncker continues to try to bully Britain, it could conceivably stay in the EU negotiating terms and bullying Mr Juncker back by vetoing everything that comes up in the EU parliament. This leads to the counter threat of the EU invoking Article 7 and suspending some or all of Britain’s rights, but at that point you are effectively killing the EU to get back at Britain. Germany will not allow it, no matter how much of a tantrum Juncker throws.
What might actually happen? Everyone could keep having a fit for a couple of months, at which point they will probably calm down. Then, either the EU could be “fixed” to satisfy the issues that Britain – and quite frankly many other countries – have with it, or Britain departs and negotiates trade and other mutually beneficial agreements that are similar to what are currently in place.
Is my line of reasoning 100 per cent correct? No, I cannot see into the future. But I believe that there is enough of an argument to be made that there has been a terrible overreaction. Now to figure out how to monetise it.
Sabah Al Binali is an active investor and entrepreneurial leader with a track record of growing companies in the Mena region. You can read more of his thoughts at al-binali.com.
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