The misplaced decision by the British to decide to leave the European Union is not one that Australia or Australians should lose much sleep about. Tony Abbott called it ‘brave’, showing just how far out of touch with reality he is. Is it brave to succumb to an ugl, mendacious and divisive campaign of lies and delusion, and to ignore a swathe of professional and expert advice just because you dislike so-called elites? The answer came even quicker than the independent UK Institute of Fiscal Studies might have expected when, first thing Friday, the Pound lost a tenth of its value, and Britons saw their savings eroded.
The accurate description of the result came from the distinguished columnist of the Financial Times, Martin Wolf who said it was a “terrible act of self-mutilitation”.
Malcolm Turnbull got it right when he told the ABC’s Leigh Sales and others that he was unfazed by the decision. Indeed, it will be business as usual with the European Union, with Australia in the midst of negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with the EU. Britain’s next prime minister will want to try and negotiate the UK’s own FTA with Australia, and Canberra will be happy to do this, while not seeing it as important or significant as the negotiations with the EU. In both cases, however, Australia will keep in mind that this is the ‘Asian Century’ and relations with Asian neighbours and the United States are the priority.
In this context the $50 billion written off the ASX was excessive, as were the gains of the index earlier in the week when the (mostly incorrect) polls forecast a swing back to ‘Remain’ in Britain. It is the British, not Australians, who will pay the price of Brexit, as they discover that the promises made by Boris Johnson on immigration, the National Health Service, and ‘taking control of the country back’ turn out to be meaningless.
For Australians, the focus now is the July 2 federal election. Here also, the campaign has been turning ugly. While the Coalition’s campaign has been far from inspiring and has lacked vision, Opposition leader Bill Shorten has shown himself to be economical with the truth, particularly in misrepresenting government policies. Independents and marginal players like the Greens have appealed to the large number of undecided voters and, with just one week to go, the result is too close to call.