A Note to My Friends Who Voted Leave

Union Jack
A British flag which was washed away by heavy rains the day before lies on the street in London, Britain, June 24, 2016 after Britain voted to leave the European Union in the EU Brexit referendum. Reinhard Krause/Reuters

This article originally appeared in Medium. Read the original article.

So Brexit it is. As we move forward in trying to figure out what Britain will look like under this new reality, I want to share a few thoughts with my many friends who supported the Leave campaign.

These are meant in the full spirit of friendship and open discussion: I certainly hope the vote has not changed the wonderful relationships I have with so many Brexiteers, but at the same time I think friends should be able to speak bluntly to each other, and I intend to do so here. The decision to leave the EU will have profound effects on Britain. If it turns out to improve the country — which I sincerely hope it does — then you will be due full credit for your foresight, and I will be first in the queue to congratulate you.

But if Brexit turns out to damage the country in the long run, you will be held to account.

Modern Britain is something of a miracle. Decimated in the last war, stripped of its Empire and still the sick man of Europe by the 1970s, it has become a paragon of economic and cultural success in the last few decades. We are a medium-sized island nation punching way above our weight in global affairs, attracting talent and investment from around the world, and maintaining one of the best standards of living for our citizens of any country in the world.

If you have ruined that, then those of us who love this country (whether as our native or, as in my case, adopted land) will struggle to forgive you.

Like most other Remainers, I will be working hard alongside you to help achieve the best possible outcomes for Britain. But I think we are up against one heck of a battle, and I think there is a very strong chance that your vote will have put you on the wrong side of history.

The Economy

In supporting Leave, you rejected the advice and views of the overwhelming majority not only of the country's elected officials and respected thinkers, but also of its business leaders — the people who create the country's wealth and jobs — about the likely impact of a Brexit on our economy.

I struggle to think of an economic issue on which such a large proportion of leaders, from so many different points on the political spectrum, all agreed on the optimal outcome. Even in the most controversial days of Mrs Thatcher's premiership, when nearly every notable economist opposed her, she had the support of much of the business community. This time there was an unprecedented coherence of opinion, and you chose to ignore it.

I think you must have done so for one of two reasons.

One is that you disagreed with it. You conducted your own analysis of the situation and came to a rational conclusion that everyone had it wrong. If so, fair enough. We all know that experts are frequently mistaken, and if you saw something in the data or facts that others missed, then great. But in that case, it's on you for your analysis to prove right, and if it doesn't, that will be your cross to bear.

The other reason you may have disregarded the experts is not because you disagreed with them, but because you felt a weaker economy was a fair price to pay for what you saw to be the restoration of our sovereignty and national pride. If so, then I think you have made a horrible mistake, because nothing undermines a country's sovereignty or pride more than economic distress.

Never in modern history was Britain's sovereignty put more in jeopardy, and its pride more dampened, than when crushed by its postwar debts it was forced to abandon the Empire. If we become a supplicant nation again, then we will be subject to a level of foreign influence that will make the EU's involvement in our affairs these past 43 years look like nothing.

Sovereignty and Regulation

On the subject of sovereignty, many of you saw this vote as fundamentally a decision on who governs Britain. The EU now regulates in so many areas, that it has perhaps come to feel that we had no control over our own affairs, and that we were chafing under the yoke of a bureaucracy that would not exist were we independent. As a theoretical matter, you were largely right. The EU does get involved in a huge range of policy areas, and there were a number of matters on which we did not have control over our own destiny.

But as a practical matter, I'm not sure you entirely understood what EU regulation meant.

In almost every case where the EU regulated in a given field, it is not as if we would have been left to a regulation-free, libertarian paradise in the absence of EU involvement. Instead, the field would have been regulated by Westminster, and in many cases the Westminster regulation would have been very similar (albeit not identical) to what came from Brussels. But what EU regulation did, and Westminster regulation cannot do, was to allow British companies to conduct their business under one set of rules anywhere in Europe. Most of you have never run a business, but as someone who has, I can tell you that that is hugely valuable both for companies and their end consumers.

So EU regulation in practice was far less about usurping power from Britain than it was about making a trade-off: in exchange for regulations that weren't quite what we would have drafted, we got a common standard that our businesses could use in 28 countries.You may, of course, take the view that the trade-off wasn't worth it, and that the differences between Brussels regulation and what would have come from Westminster were sufficiently large as to have made it a bad deal for us (which I'm sure was true in some industries).

But if you viewed the delegation of regulatory powers to Brussels has having been an assault on our sovereignty, I think you got the wrong end of the stick. Any sovereign nation can, and should, make decisions about when collective action is in the best interests of its citizens. And when it chooses to make the trade-offs involved in engaging in collective action, as Britain did with the EU, that is not an erosion of its sovereignty.


The issue of immigration lay at the center of this debate. Unfettered immigration from across the EU has not been a pain-free experience, and I think it perfectly reasonable to be concerned about its impact on our public services, housing prices and much else.

I wonder, though, whether you really believe that those challenges outweigh the vast benefits that have come from European immigration (note that I am not talking about refugees or non-European immigrants — only those who had the right to live here as a result of our EU membership).

Historically, strong immigration waves from culturally similar countries have tended to presage economic booms. Immigrants tend, by virtue of having picked up and moved from their native lands, to be disproportionately hard-working, industrious and creative; and particularly where there is a level of shared values and historical experience, as is the case in most of Europe, the value they add almost always outweighs any strain they put on the system.

American dominance in the 20th century owed a huge amount to the mass immigration of the 19th, and I would venture to say that Britain's economic success in recent decades was not disconnected from the open borders we've had with Europe.

So in making it substantially more difficult for the people who have helped, or want to help, improve this nation as restaurateurs, builders and cleaners (not to mention entrepreneurs, bankers, artists and so much else) to live here, you have taken away a wonderful source of value for this country. You will need to hope that whatever savings this achieves are worth it.

Ever Closer Union

I heard from a number of you that your decision to support the Leave campaign was less about where the EU is today than where it is heading. You have seen the constant deepening of integration since Britain joined what was then the Common Market, and you felt that even if it hasn't yet become intolerable, it will do soon if things continue on their current trajectory.

I am sympathetic with this line of argument in principle. As an entrepreneur I know well that one must skate to where the puck is going to be rather than where it is now. And I don't blame if you felt that, with it having been such a struggle to get this referendum called, you were unlikely to get another chance to have a say if things got worse in a decade's time.

The problem is that I think you have misunderstood the trajectory of the EU over the past 12 years.

Your views reflected a fair characterization of the EU's direction of travel prior to 2004. From the 1970s onward, we faced constant decisions from the ECJ that were based on preposterous interpretations of the treaties, simply because the judges wanted to promote further integration; and we faced a Commission and Council that saw it as their duty to expand the EU (and the EC before that) into as many walks of life as possible.

With that history, I probably would have supported Brexit myself in 2004.

But then things changed, and I don't think many of you realized just how much.

The accession of the 10 additional member states (most of which were formerly Communist countries in Eastern Europe) on 1 May 2004 changed the character of the EU permanently. There was now such a diversity of opinions and priorities that the ever-closer union agenda quickly became impossible to fulfill. After a few false starts, Brussels soon turned most of its energies toward refining and attempting to improve upon the core areas of the EU — primarily the free market elements — which had support from all quarters. And the rest of the time, Brussels was focused on the euro, which is a problematic currency but one which member states joined entirely at their own choice (and which Britain wisely stayed away from).

What's so important about this change in trajectory is that it was exactly what Britain fought for. We supported the expansion of the EU to Eastern Europe and elsewhere precisely because we knew that doing so would head off deeper integration. Britain got what we wanted and (along with other supporters of the expansion) changed the character of the EU permanently.

But I don't think you paid any attention to that. I think you saw this referendum as a chance to fight a battle you have wanted to fight for decades, since a time when the opponent was someone completely different. I dare say it's as if you decided to attack France in 1827 because of the threat posed by Napoleon.

The Disunited Kingdom

On the subject of unions, your actions have put our own union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in severe jeopardy. Having supposedly settled the Scottish independence question for at least a generation, it is now difficult to imagine that Scotland will still be part of the United Kingdom in 2020. Northern Ireland is more complicated, but if anything was going to disrupt the fractious peace that has been achieved there with so much effort, this vote (and the concomitant issues it raises for the border and trade with the Republic) was it.

And as ridiculous as it sounds today, the idea of London seeking to follow the Singapore model and become an independent city-state, or at least semi-automonous region, with its own membership of the EU is no longer unthinkable.

You may well think that the dissolution of the union, and particularly Scotland's departure, is a good thing. Scotland has never been an entirely happy participant, and in recent decades it has come to develop a profoundly different political and social outlook than much of the rest of the country. So if you want to see Scotland gone, and you are either supportive of or not bothered by the implications for Northern Ireland and London, then you are in great shape.

But if you thought we could leave the EU without having any impact on own union, I think you are going to be sorely disappointed. And if you don't believe the Scots or the Northern Irish (or even London) should be entitled to a referendum if they want it, then you are a hypocrite.

You have sowed the seeds of the United Kingdom's dissolution, and now you need to be willing to reap the harvest when it comes.

Strange Bedfellows

Finally I want to say a word about some of the invective that has been hurled at Leave supporters over the past days.

I do not think for a second that you, my Leave-supporting friends, are racist, xenophobic or ignorant. Most of you are quite fond of Europe, even if you don't want Britain to be part of the EU, and while you may have frustrations with the levels of immigration Britain has faced, I don't believe you are opposed to, or afraid of, living side by side with people from a range of different cultures and backgrounds.

The problem is that I think you are in a minority of Leave supporters, and your victory was the result of a de facto coalition with people whose motives are very different that yours.

It is abundantly clear that a substantial proportion of the Leave vote came from people who were concerned not about ideals of sovereignty or deregulation, or even national identity, but instead were genuinely opposed to the inclusion of people unlike them in British society. A huge segment of the Leave campaign drew its heritage directly from Smethwick and from Rivers of Blood. You only need to look at the short list of international figures who celebrated your victory to understand with whom you've gotten into bed: Trump, Le Pen and Wilders stand out.

So having lain down with dogs, I fear you will now wake up with fleas. You will be charged with shaping a new Britain that reflects the aspirations of the broad coalition of Leave supporters, and you will need to find ways to please not only those who sit in the Michael Gove or Daniel Hannan camps but also those whose inspiration and views come from Nigel Farage (and some people a whole lot worse than that).

This is going to be a difficult task, and you are going to have to find a way to achieve it without pandering to the racist and xenophobic tendencies that lie just beneath (or even on) the surface in so many of your colleagues.

All of this makes me concerned, and it should make you concerned too. You have a mammoth job ahead of you. You will have the full support of Remainers like me, and nothing would please us more than to be proven wrong. But it is your responsibility, and your duty, to do so.

I hope you are able to fulfil it.

Jeff Lynn is the CEO and co-founder of Seedrs. Follow him on Twitter @JeffSeedrs. The views expressed here are his own and do not reflect his company's.

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