Sunday, 4 September 2016

An extraordinary warning from Japan

Japanese culture is sophisticated and often considered impenetrable by Europeans. Part of this is because the Japanese speak in a subtle and indirect way, almost always avoiding direct assertions and categorical statements. Sometimes the English do this in a few situations; “Might I join you?”, “Would it be at all possible to join you?” The subtleties of the Japanese language are in a completely different league however; allusion, inference and subtly implicit statements with multilevel meanings abound. Indeed they rarely ever contradict each other even in a discussion or debate. It is like the diametric opposite of the direct and plain-speaking Yorkshire culture. It is the Japanese way, as important a part of their culture as raw fish, sumo and cleanliness. I know, I have been in a relationship with a Japanese citizen for 25 years and spent many extended periods there.

This makes the unequivocal and direct way that the Japanesegovernment has reacted to Britain leaving the EU all the more remarkable. It was direct, to-the-point and unequivocal. Incredibly they did not pull their punches or mince their words; Brexit will be a disaster, an unprecedented catastrophe for the UK, and one, which will have lasting effects and be extremely difficult to recover from. The Japanese have every right to say this; they have substantial investments in the UK, and invested here primarily because the UK is in the EU. These will go unless Britain has a very soft Brexit like the relationship between the EU and Norway; the kind of thing the Leave campaign were advocating before the referendum.

This raises the issue of how many other countries that have invested here will also pull out; Korean, Chinese, Russian, American, German, French, Italian, Indian, Swedish, Canadian, British…? I doubt anyone has given these a great deal of thought, and maybe some do not wish to confront the harsh realities of Brexit. The Remain campaign were predicting 3 million people losing their jobs as a result of Brexit, that now starts to look like a conservative estimate. If, for example, the Nissan plant in the North-East closes not only will those directly employed there lose their jobs but local suppliers, transport companies and other local businesses which cannot survive without the spending power of Nissan workers. The 44-48% of UK trade with the EU will probably be reduced to single figures, people will lose their jobs and their businesses will fold because they can no longer trade with the EU.

Ironically, although the City of London will lose out initially it is highly likely that the semi-legitimate (or indeed completely illegitimate) type of banking will fill much of the gap as Euro trades are moved to Frankfurt or Paris; London will become a sort of Cayman Islands without the middle-man, and the kind of casino banking that damaged the country so much during the financial collapse of 2007 will return, with bells on, to fill the gap. As the economies of those parts of England that voted most strongly for Brexit collapse further, London will gain even greater dominance, the North-South divide will be bigger than ever.

Let’s not beat about the bush on public services either. With very high levels of unemployment, tax receipts will go down and social security payments increase; not just temporarily but for a very long time. The tax revenues that the government gets from those exports to the EU will vanish, and be unreplaced. Public finances will worsen, probably to the tune of at least £100 Billion a year. To put that into context that represents almost the entire NHS budget of £114 Billion. The promised £350 million a week extra for the NHS will probably turn into a cut of more £500 million a week. Other aspects of public services will inevitably be cut, including social security payments, pensions, housing benefit, social care and transport budgets. Those who voted Leave because they wanted more money for the NHS will find that instead they have voted for a, possibly terminal, cut to the NHS.  As what Leave described as “scaremongering” becomes facts, make no mistake, Brexit could genuinely mean the end of the NHS.

All this makes the case against a referendum on the terms of Brexit, opposed by both Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, even weaker than it already was. The Leave campaign claimed that Britain outside the EU would be like Norway or Switzerland, however it is looking more like Britain will be something between Albania or Bosnia afterwards. Shortly after the referendum, Ed Miliband talked about how one of his constituents told him that she had voted Leave “for my granddaughter”. This woman and many like her need to know that, in contrast to their wishes the harm their action will cause themselves, their children and grandchildren will be severe and long-lasting.

The Japanese warning should be heeded not merely because Japan is a trading partner and huge investor in British industry and business as well as a country that has been friendly towards us for a long time. We should also heed their words because the Japanese rarely speak so directly and forthrightly. Their extraordinary language makes their dire warnings all the more significant. We should heed them.

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