The Truth about Brexit: the most stunning aspect of England's vote to exit the European Union is how shocked and emotional people across the globe are about it. But the real surprise is that Bregret, on the heels of Brexit, could be the best thing that has happened to the EU in a long time.
First, the surprise about the surprise. The reason for the surprise is simple. To cross the Pond for a moment and quote a beloved American movie starring Paul Newman called Cool Hand Luke, "what we have here is a failure to communicate." The British electorate, the English electorate really, is talking at cross-purposes. For those well-set up to thrive under Europe and under its more distant cousin globalization, the likes of multi-lingual investment bankers, hedge fund managers, financial analysts and star reporters, leaving the EU is a head-scratcher. Why impede the free flow of capital and labor, of efficient markets? But, if you are the village baker, burdensome regulation created in a far-off location by bureaucrats who have never baked a loaf of bread and the influx of Eastern European competitors to the local high street is not a positive in your world. And the appeal of keeping the money that would otherwise go to the EU, whether a reality or not, demonstrates the failure to communicate the value of the EU to the average person.
So now, the double surprise - the Bregret. Given that England is the land that gave the world the stiff upper lip and the fact that looking down one's nose at an English person is the very thing most likely to cause them to dig their heels in, I would have thought that post-Brexit there would have been considerable squirming but no open regret. Bregret may have been caused by EU politicians jumping in immediately to push England out of the EU in conjunction with the sudden realization of the inevitable breakup of the United Kingdom if Brexit succeeds while Scotland and Northern Ireland are determined so stay in the EU, not to mention the fright caused by the sterling falling out of bed and the markets reeling. I myself was taken aback not by the vote but the reaction to the vote. I thought the markets would go sideways rather than plunging and I also was sure that UK and EU leaders would get to the negotiating table quickly to talk about how to keep the UK in the EU. Because the EU is a construct and despite all the talk about Article 50 and rules and regulations around withdrawal and Frexit and whatever else, almost anything is possible if the politicians, bureaucrats, and electorates want it to be. The bigger questions are - what is the motivation of individual EU leaders given personal agendas, vast cultural differences, and a thousand years of infighting --and do they want it to be?
Why could Brexit Bregret be the best thing that ever happened? We now all have a clear vision of what the EU without the UK looks like and it is not pretty. So that fantasy is over. And should be over for any EU country who thinks an exit is a good idea. Thinking about leaving your spouse and actually leaving your spouse are two vastly different things. Whatever the vote was, England is still Europe. It should have been clear to EU politicians and bureaucrats that the time to suggest that Britain to come to the negotiating table was as soon as the vote tally was official. This is a chance to redefine the European dynamic following a millennium of cooperation, competition, and warfare. Angela Merkel is busy demonstrating why she has been Chancellor for over 10 years. She is already ahead of the pack in exercising leadership, stating that the remaining 27 EU members should "calmly analyze and evaluate the situation and, on this basis, together make the right decisions." She added that, "We must ensure that citizens can feel in concrete terms how much the European Union contributes to improving their personal situation."
Where things need to go from here. It is exciting to get excited. But the news of the death of the EU is greatly exaggerated. The UK has never been the Continent but has always been a part of Europe. Claret will continue to be drunk. Olive oil will continue to be a staple. There are no liquidity issues at this time. Despite the extraordinary global emotion, fear, and agitation, this is not Lehman Brothers by a long shot. UK leaders need to understand and absorb what exactly led to the vote going the way it did and clearly identify those issues. Those issues need to be taken up with the EU powers that be. And as Chancellor Merkel implied, issues that reflect a failure to communicate with the European voters need to be explored. Communication needs to be a two-way street. EU bureaucrats and politicians like the mayor of Calais need to avoid extracting revenge and falling back on reflexive patterns developed over time immemorial and get about the business of leading. If UK and EU politicians exhibit leadership and seize this opportunity, a new and better Europe will emerge. So, let's all Keep Calm and Carry On.
Linda Dunbar is a PR/ corporate communications executive and consultant with experience leading a full spectrum of communications disciplines. Her multi-industry experience includes roles at Dow Jones, Ford Motor Company, the American Institute of CPAs, Philip Morris International, and JP Morgan. She can be contacted at ldunbar@MonsoonNYC.com or at linkedin.com/in/lindaedunbar.