I’ve been watching the Brexit affair with puzzlement and bemusement from this side of the Atlantic. I don’t feel like I have a personal stake in the matter, but I probably should, given that the repercussions from it will probably have world-wide effects.
I did find it a touch amusing that Scotland voted against its own independence last year, but Britain voted for its independence this year. However, I’m informed that one of the matters that decided the Scottish vote was concern that Scotland wouldn’t be allowed back into the EU by itself—but with Britain leaving it, the notion of an independent Scotland may have been thrown right back on the table again.
Another dark bit of amusement—after all the decades of strife and terrorism, the thing that reunites Ireland after all might just be a bureaucratic decision to leave the European Union. Both Ireland and Scotland voted significantly in favor of staying in the EU; it’s just that a large chunk of England didn’t. So Scotland might go off on its own, and Ireland opt to reunite with Northern Ireland, and suddenly Great Britain is just England again. The sun may finally be setting on the British Empire.
I suppose it shouldn’t come as a great surprise that Britain decided to exit the EU. It’s always been a bit prickly about some EU affairs—keeping its own currency instead of switching over to the Euro like most of the EU did. A number of its small businesses were affected by the VAT-MOSS matter, in which Europe revamped value-added taxes to make things more complicated for everybody. Perhaps it’s not so surprising that the island nation wants out of a union mostly made up of mainlanders.
That said, the vote in the referendum wasn’t binding. There’s still plenty of room for a slip twixt cup and lip—when it comes time to take the actual governmental action necessary to leave the EU, perhaps the politicians will take a step back and reconsider given all the terrible effects the decision is already having. Even if they don’t, the process will take two years to complete, so it’s not going to have any immediate effect for a while.
Speaking of VAT-MOSS, I asked author and e-bookstore operator Diane Duane what effect this might have on her business. Duane lives in Ireland, but has been able to deal with VAT-MOSS fairly easily so far. She replied:
In the very short term, probably not a whole lot. Until the UK is formally excised from the EU’s tax / fee structure, I keep charging UK VAT to UK customers and remitting it to the Irish tax authorities to be passed on to the UK. After they’re fully out I won’t have to do that any more. But UK sales are a relatively small percentage of what we do in the store… Meanwhile it’s going to take them years to undo this relationship —assuming that the next PM does actually “trigger part 50” — but in the short term, no difference to me.
UK ebook sellers will now be going through the same agonies of not knowing what the heck is going to happen to their businesses in the wake of these ructions as many other small / independent business people will be. Eventually they will doubtless be freed from the present MOSS structure. But this is going to take a good while to happen. The UK’s relationship with the EU is five decades long, and it’s not going to be undone in a day. But the question then becomes, what new regulations about digital sales are going to be imposed on independent ebook sellers by the UK? And how do we predict what protocols or tariffs the EU will impose on UK ebook businesses trying to grow (or even just retain) their customer base in Europe? …Even if things go as well as they can, this is going to be an ugly, uncertain mess for a long time to come.
(Duane’s DRM-free multi-format e-book store, Ebooks Direct, is currently running a 50%-off sale on some of its books.)
Reactions from authors on both sides of the Big Pond have been largely negative. Charlie Stross has a well-reasoned post looking at potential consequences. The money market and stock market are already in decline, and he sees more economic and political turmoil ahead as the matter proceeds. John Scalzi draws parallels between this affair and the unfathomable popularity of Donald Trump over here. Howard Tayler of the webcomic Schlock Mercenary finds an interesting parallel of his own to draw to the movie Independence Day: Resurgence—except that movie had older generations fighting to protect the dream of younger generations, whereas Brexit had older generations decide to go completely against the wishes of the youth.
At 48 I guess I’m technically an old person², at least in the eyes of the 18-24yo voters who so overwhelmingly favored remaining in the UK. I’m an old person who has changed his mind numerous times, and who looks back and is appalled at some of what I used to think³. If I’m wise, it’s not because I’m constant, unless you count “constantly learning.” Young me probably would have been won over by words like “sovereignty” and “independence.” Old me sees how connected we all are, and how every single act of ignorant distrust tears at the fabric of the future we want to build.
Various other authors have spoken up on Twitter, as well. In particular, J.K. Rowling says she doesn’t think she’s ever wanted magic more.
In any event, it’s still very early yet to make any kind of informed guess as to how the whole thing will play out. It’s still entirely possible that voters might be “scared straight” by all the negative consequences that are already starting to mount, and ask their politicians to vote the other way when it comes down to the wire. Who knows?