26 October 2016
One of the lessons of the Brexit vote is that the masses don't like to be told by the elites as to what to do. Photo: Reuters
One of the lessons of the Brexit vote is that the masses don't like to be told by the elites as to what to do. Photo: Reuters

Brexit vote: The Queen, the masses, and your passport

The British monarchy is supposed to be politically neutral but that doesn’t mean the Queen can’t express her views, deftly, over issues that matter a great deal to her reign and kingdom.

Two years ago Queen Elizabeth sent out a message, through a politician she had tea with, that Scots should “think carefully” before going to polling stations in an independence referendum.

The official position, however, was that Her Majesty wouldn’t canvass for either side.

In the end, the outcome of the Scottish referendum – more than 55 percent of Scots voted to remain in the United Kingdom – would have been heartening to her.

Coming back to the present, the Queen’s stance in the Brexit vote was laid bare by The Sun, the newspaper which has a huge circulation and a distinctive middle to grassroots readership.

The tabloid revealed just before the referendum that as early as in 2011 the Queen challenged dinner party guests in Windsor, including the then deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, to give “three good reasons why Britain should be part of Europe”.

Though Buckingham Palace protested to the media watchdog, the Independent Press Standards Organisation, about the “inaccurate” report, many believe this was exactly how the Queen feels about Brexit.

Some observers noted that remaining in the European Union may be prejudicial to the British monarchy, given the concern that the United Kingdom may be further consigned into just a dependency of the politico-economic union, which has come to bear some hallmarks of a superstate.

Now the Queen has once again proved that she can still influence the masses, albeit in a quiet way, as the Brexit vote outcome has defied market expectations.

But the United Kingdom may once again cease to be united as Brexit may trigger another independence referendum in Scotland, where many voters may see splitting from the UK as a way to remaining in the EU. Northern Ireland and Wales may also follow suit.

Rarely has Britain been on good terms with continental Europe after World War II. France’s Charles de Gaulle twice blocked London from joining the European Economic Community, EU’s predecessor, in the 1960s. 

Margaret Thatcher was never a big fan of any common European market policies, and when John Major was the Prime Minister, pound sterling was kicked out from the European Exchange Rate Mechanism on “Black Wednesday” (Sept. 16, 1992) as Britain’s economic performance made the exchange rate unsustainable.

Speculator George Soros notoriously made about US$1 billion by shorting the British currency.

But the City of London, as the predominant banking center, has benefited tremendously from the single market.

So it’s not surprising that around 75 percent of voters in the tiny borough are against Brexit, as they stand to be the biggest losers when money flows to other alternative centers like Paris and Frankfurt.

But the city’s expertise in laws, talent pool and language will remain unscathed. Just like what we saw in Hong Kong following the territory’s handover to China in 1997.

Hong Kong had prepared a large buffer to withstand potential capital outflows when it ceased to be a British colony, but the worst-case scenario never came about.

Observers have described the Brexit vote as a reminder that the masses no longer like to be told by the elites as to what to do. Many voters sided with the anti-establishment camp as nativist feelings took hold.

Given these situations, governments are more likely to hand out money – repeating the so-called “helicopter drops” — to appease voters.

We can only wait and watch as developments continue to unfold in Britain and continental Europe.

Meanwhile, here’s one passing thought after the Brexit vote: Hongkongers holding dual passports may now find it more advantageous to use the Hong Kong SAR passport while traveling in Europe, rather than the British National Overseas (BNO) document.

This is because it is uncertain whether EU countries will continue to guarantee preferential access to British passport holders in the aftermath of Brexit.

European nations may feel that there’s no need for them to remain courteous to holders of British documents following the snub from the UK.

Strong action will also serve as a deterrent to other nations that might be mulling exits from the EU.

This is an adaptation of two separate articles that appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on June 23 and 28.

Translation by Frank Chen

[Chinese version 1, 2 中文版]

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A famous Hong Kong writer; founder of the Hong Kong Economic Journal

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