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The UK opinion gap

The UK opinion gap

Massive protest vote likely on 23 June 

by Bruce Packard in London

Mon 18 Apr 2016

Central bankers, diplomats, lawyers, lobbyists, senior civil servants, chief executives and other unelected technocrats believe Britain should vote on 23 June to stay in the European Union. There could be serious consequences if the UK left. Londoners might not be able to trade the euro. Bankers could move to Paris or Frankfurt. The UK may lose its seat on the UN security council. In the world of unelected technocrats, these things are important.

The most savage controversies are those about matters as to which there is no good evidence either way. We don't have heated debates about whether a triangle has three sides. We don't argue about whether Scotland is north of England. Lack of evidence tends to make an argument more emotive. This is certainly the case with regard to Britain and the EU.

The arguments for staying show how out of touch these people really are.
Lots of important people think the EU has benefited them. But they are a small minority of the electorate. In view of this gap between the opinions of the ‘elites’ and ordinary people, I predict a massive protest vote. Those who have unambiguously benefited from being part of the EU need to make the case to the rest of the electorate – yet they have not done this convincingly or forcibly.

Chief executives of multinational companies are so out of touch with reality they seem genuinely to believe huge increases in wealth and income inequality have been good for everyone.

Here is a specific example. I had lunch with a former boss, previously head of research at various investment banks, now in his 50s. He admitted that, despite being in the generally pro-European 1% of population by both assets and income, he wasn't sure how he had benefited from being in the EU.

I speak German and spend a good deal of time in Berlin, largely because the same former boss was forced to make me redundant. The chief executive had hired a large team from a German bank. I was replaced with a Spanish-born UK banks analyst, part of the incoming team.

There seems to be a lot less job security for London workers than for those working in other financial centres. London’s economy, overall, might benefit from this hiring, firing and competition for jobs. But, having lost my job, I am less certain of how I specifically benefited. In a reversal of the situation, can you imagine a foreigner being favoured over a local in Paris, Frankfurt or any other financial centre? It rarely seems to happen.

I am still on good terms with the boss who fired me, and, unlike many Brexit discussions, this was not a heated debate. Over Spanish red wine and tapas in a City restaurant, we discussed the pros and cons of EU membership.

It struck us both that, if wealthy City types were not particularly bothered about lots of foreign exchange trading moving overseas or bankers moving away, surely people less fortunate than us would find these arguments unconvincing.

I have a favourable attitude towards closer European integration. I think the single currency was, and still is, a great idea, although not for Britain. I believe the EU is generally a beneficial undertaking – but not necessarily for everyone who lives in the UK.

We will be hearing a great deal from Britons who do not regard being in the EU as positive. I am steeling myself for the majority of my compatriots to choose an exit on 23 June.

Bruce Packard is an independent consultant who has covered UK banks since 2000, and a member of the OMFIF Advisory Board. This is No.35 in the series.

OMFIF’s series on the UK EU referendum presents a wide variety of perspectives from Britain and around the world ahead of the 23 June poll. We are assuring a balance between many different points of view, in line with OMFIF’s overall neutral stance on the issue.

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