Gossip and a Pint: Brexit is a new Magna Carta
In America, Trump asked Justice Ruth Bade Ginsburg to resign after she called him a “faker”, and in the UK the discount chain Poundland has accepted a £597m takeover by the retail group Steinhoff International. In the meantime, parents have been posting pictures of themselves kissing their children on the lips on social media in support to Victoria Beckham after her controversial picture of her kissing her daughter on the lips attracted negative comments. “For the Record”, Jennifer Aniston is not pregnant, even if the media want her otherwise, resorting in the familiar celebrity body shaming popularised by US Weekly, HELLO!, TMZ.com, or Perez Hilton, among so many others. The world appears as a tragicomedy, a stage where the comic and the tragic, the lighthearted and the dramatic, converge without consequence. Even worse, history, as the recent news of people playing Pokémon Go on their mobiles when visiting the US Holocaust Memorial Museum showed, is deleted, substituted by the colourful screens of the game’s fictitious monsters. Hunting down Pikachu, Charizard and Jigglypuff in the Pokémon world is not just escapism, but also a “logging out” from reality and the things that matter.
But why I am giving you these arbitrary facts? For one, these are as random as what the majority of people are reading at this moment. Secondly, it shows variety. Thirdly, it is an example of what feeds the economy and on what the economy feeds: these are all subject matters that sell. At the same time, the economy itself appears as random, volatile and crazy as the news trends themselves. For this week, and in order to talk about post-Brexit finance, I am picking pub group JD Wetherspoon’s chairman Tim Martin. His business outlook on Brexit blends the tragic and the comic, “arousing pity and fear” as the definition of tragedy by Aristotle puts it, but without the catharsis bit.
Using an analogy that reminds of Plato’s allegory of the cave he said: “The cataclysmic referendum result on Thursday has shaken the world. Democracy is back, but like prisoners confronted with freedom for the first time in decades, the nation is frightened and awestruck by its unlimited options.” Like the prisoners in the cave that perceive the shadows they see as reality and are unable to see the light, we can also say the inverse: that Mr. Martin is the prisoner who is blinded by the sun and is unwilling to see the looming shadows over post-Brexit Britain. Looking at the only reality he does understand, his individual materialistic profits, he remains reluctant to see the bigger picture and the sinister ways Brexit will affect the lives of the community.
Democracy and Free Trade
For Martin, and for many that campaigned for Brexit, the European Union was “undemocratic” and they went on to preach about economic prosperity’s links to democracy. In his statement published in his company’s financial report on 13 July, he said:
"Democracy, prosperity and freedom are inextricably linked. The EU is heading down an increasingly autocratic path, which has already caused severe economic problems in most of southern Europe, and risks further contagion on the continent. Brexit is a modern Magna Carta, reasserting democratic control in the UK. It is up to UK citizens now to participate in formulating policies based on free trade with Europe and the world, an enterprise economy and sensible immigration policies, with parliamentary control."
But the relationship between economic freedom and political liberty is not a harmonious one. The idea that democracy cannot exist without a free market economy—the ideology we came to recognise as the tenets of neoliberal democracies today—is not accurate, since the more deregulated trade becomes, the more democracy is shrinking. With Brexit, many individuals were misinformed, unprepared, or unable to positively contribute to the debates about the referendum or influence the outcome. The uncertain conditions within which they will continue to live and whose seeds have been sewn by the Brexit farmers, are undemocratic and most damaging to the majority of Britons. But for Martin, “‘we have nothing to fear but fear itself’. But Big Brother in Brussels is no longer in charge. The world is our oyster, provided we think clearly, debate strongly and prevent the paranoia and hyperbole of the referendum process from clouding our judgement.”
UK Recession in 2017
Brexit, however, is not what Martin wants us to think, an open world of unending possibilities that awaits us to harvest its blossoms and carpe diem. As a new survey by investment bank Credit Suisse shows, companies are cutting rather than spending, proving that the Brexit vote has affected business confidence. Firms are not hiring and others are postponing their plans until some form of relationship between the UK and the EU is confirmed. The survey confirms that the Brexit’s impact on the UK’s financial stability was negative and that the UK economy will shrink 1% in 2017. Credit Suisse cites the following reasons that might drive Britain to recession: companies have no Brexit plans, exports to the EU will be “discriminated against,” foreign investors will avoid the UK, companies having built their inventories already will be unable to sell their goods during a possible recession and the lack of household savings. These are the shadows looming over Martin’s blinding sun, and they appear to materialise already.
At the moment his company perhaps has nothing to fear: the Wetherspoon chain “‘was on track to deliver a better full-year performance than previously expected’, he said. In the fourth quarter ending 10 July, sales increased by 4% on a like-for-like basis, stripping out sales at pubs open for less than a year. Total sales rose by 3.8%. Over the financial year as a whole, like-for-like sales were up by 3.5%, while total sales climbed by 5.5%” (Angela Monaghan, The Guardian). But maybe, one can argue that the increase in pints proves the opposite: that everyone is drinking more to forget that they are in a post-Brexit Britain.