By James Wharton
What we all agree on – probably – is that this decision matters less to us personally than it does it our children and grandchildren. But it has also created many angry people of the older generation who feel, rightly or wrongly, that something we have together built up has suddenly been willfully destroyed. I think the consequences, good or bad, have to be assessed in both a micro and a macro sense – and at various stages in between. Here are some negatives.
In the North East, which voted heavily for exit, the one project which stands out a mile for our revitalisation post coal, steel and shipbuilding, is the Nissan factory, which directly employs 7000 people and a further 30,000 in the supply chain. Nissan is the largest car manufacturer in the UK, exports 80% of its product of which three quarters goes to Europe. With the fall in the pound, this might continue even with the introduction of tariffs. But the long term strategy under discussion is the future locationof electric car development and production – started in Sunderland – a product which many feel will dominate the market in 10 years time. Nissan is heavily dominated by French/Renault thinking.
We know our Universities punch well above their weight in world terms – in the proportion in the top 10 and 100 relative to population – and in the proportion of world class regarded research papers. But already we have seen several downgraded by the credit agencies from, in part, the resulting prospective drop in student numbers and consequent cash losses. Large numbers of researchers here from abroad who are fundamental to this success – the Centre for Life has people from 30 countries- already are jittery about their prospects of remaining. Would we find replacements? And co- researchers from Europe preparing grant applications within a week of the vote are asking their UK colleagues to drop out of the application. This is a jewel in our crown we could not afford to lose.
For a long timein the latter part of the last century - as the cliché goes –UK, a small island in a large world, struggled to find its post imperial role. Latterly, as much as anything, we found it by establishing our stake in the future wealth and security of Europe. This has brought many benefits – cultural, political, financial, environmental – and allowed us to contribute to a louder voice on a range of international policiesthan we could ever have achieved on our own. Success in international trade is important but it isn't everything.
But how do we deal with our membership of such a European institution which despite these successes, at the present time has acquired moribund governance, a series of failing policies, seemingly incapable of change and heading in the wrong direction. That's where the divide occurs. Do we argue or leave? Are we a nation of "joiners" or "splitters"? What effect will our choice have on others? This will determine how behave and how we are viewed externally for generations.
But as the Economist has it – it is now time to snap out of the daze. Would a majority prefer a Norwegian compromise to complete isolation? We don't know. There are now two strong views and somehow we have to get used to it.