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July 06, 2016

The second Brexit shock

Brexit will keep us busy for the next three years at least. There are still Remainers out there who think this vote can somehow be overturned before it becomes effective. Their hope is that the economy will crumble, and force a nationwide rethink and possibly a wider political realignment. We think this scenario is theoretically possible, but has a very low probability, and would be politically poisonous.

Continental newspapers also have been reporting with enthusiasm on various construed "Bremain" scenarios - making it sound that it was all a bad dream, and that the most likely outcome is continuity. Austria finance minister, Hans-Jorg Schelling, yesterday came out with a smug remark that the UK would still be in the UK in five years time. Comments like these signal to us that the real Brexit shock is yet to happen. So far, the Remainers have only acknowledged that they lost the referendum. Many of them have yet to realise that they are actually leaving the EU. We presume that some of the more optimistic market reactions may have been due to that illusion.

We are now seeing the first immediate economic effects of the referendum. The best news is without a doubt the fall in the pound, which will ease the country's large - and, until recently, still growing - current account deficit. The second good news is the fall in house prices, starting in London where estate agents have been reporting a fall in asking prices of some 10-15%. These are not hard statistics, but there is clearly now a fall in demand for houses. The weakness is likely to persist until there is more clarity about the country's future.

There are reports that property funds are barring investors from withdrawing money - which is usually a first sign of financial stress. A persistent fall in house prices may lead to a bailout of the financial sector. But it is hard to blame Brexit for this. It was the trigger, but the problem surely was the bubble itself, the result of long-standing mistakes in housing policies. Since successive governments failed to enact policies to increase housing supply, the voters have decided to reduce housing demand by placing controls on immigration. The thing with bubbles is that they will eventually burst - only the path is uncertain.

The main political development yesterday was the first round in the Tory leadership election, which reduced the number of candidates from five to three - one was booted out, one withdrew. This leaves Therasa May, Angela Leadsom and Michael Gove as the remaining candidates, with the two women in front. The next round voting is tomorrow. By tomorrow even, there will be two candidates, who will then be voted on by party members. A YouGov poll for the Times has May 32 points ahead of Leadsom, but we assume that this gap will narrow as Leadsom's profile rises. But it is fair to say that May is the front-runner in this contest - and also the candidate most likely to maintain the unity of the party. And this requires that a relative hard form of Brexit is executed - i.e. not the EEA/Norway model that we would favour.

Deutsche Borse, meanwhile, took the decision yesterday that London cannot be the sole headquarters of its merged operation with the LSE. The company set up a committee to investigate what options will now be available. Dual headquarters is one of several possibilities. This is an example of how the Brexit referendum is creating facts on the ground. Stories like these, and the economic uncertainty that is holding back investment, will put pressure on the next government to proceed with the implementation of Brexit as fast as possible. The economic damage is containable, but probably not if the next government makes big mistakes, such as trying to prolong the Article 50 process unnecessarily.

The one long article we would recommend reading in full is Rafael Behr's investigation in the Guardian into how Remain lost the campaign. Apart from the problems we highlighted - especially the failure to make a positive case for Europe, and the failure of the Labour leadership to rally their supporters  - Behr's investigation threw up another source of conflict inside the Leave campaign - political rivalries between the Conservative government and Labour.

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July 06, 2016

Brain drain and the right to vote

The electoral reform bill just tabled in the Greek parliament left out the right to vote for those Greeks living abroad. In a country where brain drain has been particularly pronounced during the crisis this is not a minor thing: 427,000 Greeks left the country since 2008 according to the Bank of Greece. Many of them are highly skilled, and almost all of them are registered voters. Taking the number registered voters in the September 2015 elections, they would come to nearly 4%. 

A "brain drain initiative" collected 7,000 signatures asking for the right to vote, like it is common in 25 other EU countries. Their survey showed that the 62% of those polled want to return to Greece. Both New Democracy and Pasok advocated an expat vote, but Alexis Tsipras and his government chose not to include it. For a party citing democratic values all the time, would it not be democratic to include those expats, asked Greek Reporter.

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July 06, 2016

The plan that never saw the light

On the occasion of the first-year anniversary of the Greek referendum, James Galbraith published a book about the 'Plan X' to introduce a parallel currency in Greece. Galbraith was the coordinator of the team under Yanis Varoufakis that worked out the plan for transitioning to a new drachma. They met in high secrecy. In Galbraith's new book with the title "Welcome to the Poisoned Chalice: The Destruction of Greece and the Future of Europe" he listed the planned measures: declaring of a state of emergency, the immediate nationalisation of the Bank of Greece, the transformation of bank deposits into a New Drachma and emergency public order measures. Nothing we did not know, as KT Greece noted, but nevertheless the Greek version of the book was received in the Greek media like a bombshell. Opposition parties were quick to argue that it shows the hell the country escaped from. What we found interesting, though, is Galbraith’s remark that Tsipras did not ask to be briefed, so the plan ended up with an extensive memo in May. Galbraith does not hide his disappointment that the plan was never executed. 

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July 06, 2016

What will happen to Northern Ireland?

Fintan O'Toole takes note in an op-ed that Brexiteers do not give a damn about Northern Ireland, and that Michael Gove and Theresa May are even hostile to the 1998 Good Friday peace deal. They see this as incompatible with the Conservative vision of English law and governance. The Belfast treaty guarantees a move towards incorporating the European convention of human rights into UK law, which the Brexiteers want to remove. Gove and May also want sole primacy of the English courts, not the European Court of Justice, which Northern Ireland got through the peace deal. The agreement also implies that the borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic could remain open, not what Brexiteers had in mind. Gove has spoken in favour of scrapping the peace deal altogether. May is more subtle, though there is no doubt that her position is equally forceful when it comes to the European convention of human rights.  

The fact that Northern Ireland voted for Remain also has no consequences. For all those reasons O’Toole pleas that the Irish government now needs to do all it can to ensure that Northern Ireland is not taken out of the EU against its will. 

But what arrangements could they possibly aim for? Kevin O’Rourke used the Danish example as a role model here. The Kingdom of Denmark is not just Denmark proper, it includes two other autonomous countries as well. Only Denmark is in the EU.

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