Okay, so I stole the line from Mr. Shakespeare, but doesn't it actually fit the mood over Brexit rather well?
Last year the British public voted, albeit not overwhelmingly but at least by a majority, to leave the European Union. It was a democratic process, leaving aside whether a referendum was the right thing to do or not. I personally believe it was the wrong decision, but it is what it is and in a democracy you put your differences to one side and get on with it. It does seem, though, that from a legal point of view even if a majority of people agree to a course of action that doesn't mean you can just go ahead and implement the will of the people. I am not a lawyer so I am not about to opine on legal niceties, but if this is the way things are run in a democracy it seems to me that China is not too far out of line with the rest of the world in its own decision making processes.
And just to be sidetracked for a moment on democratic process and China take, for example, the recent US election where one candidate wins the popular vote but loses the Presidency because the US electoral college of something like 538 voters chooses the other candidate. Contrast that to the upcoming and widely believed to be undemocratic election process for Hong Kong's new Chief Executive. That will be decided by almost 1200 people - rather more it seems than are needed to elect an American President. And no, before you jump up on the soap box, of course it's not a like for like comparison and yes it is flippant, but the point I am making is that even in the apparently most democratic societies there are indications that all is not what it seems.
Which brings me back to Brexit. I don't live in Britain so there is a chance I am missing something here. And I confess to having been reading news reports again - often a mistake - but the successful legal challenge saying that the triggering of Article 50, which is the mechanism by which the United Kingdom can apply to leave the European Union has to be discussed first by Parliament who then has to vote on it. This seems to have brought some interesting comments from more than a few Members of Parliament who are now saying at least we can debate the subject properly, forgetting apparently that the constituents they represent have already spoken on their behalf. In particular comments like they will only agree to the bill put before Parliament if "we get a good deal from the Europeans".
Wait a little minute here - getting a good deal from Europe? Why should they be interested in giving the United Kingdom an easy "out"? If Britain gets good terms, then that surely will encourage others to say "okay, we want out of the EU too, and if the "sweetheart" deal for Britain sets a precedent then we'll have the same". And so begins the slow, painful, inevitable unravelling of a union that actually started off with the right ideas. It was small in number but economically influential. It was manageable, and fell into the category of "good things come in small packages" - but then as my Mother used to say - "so does poison". And so the EU grew, and became unmanageable, and the previously economically strong countries began to have to bail out the smaller ones. Decisions made by the EU affected all members, on a "one size fits all" basis. Given those arguments, I am not altogether surprised at Britain's decision to leave the EU. I believe nevertheless that we should have stayed in for a variety of reasons - some of which I think will become clear as the negotiations to leave become more advanced. Maybe I'm wrong, I hope so, but I do not see the powers within the EU being keen to allow the UK too many concessions, despite the demands of the parliamentarians.
And just as an aside to that, I was at the Asian Finance Forum in Hong Kong two weeks ago and listening to one or two of the Europeans present who were consistent and adamant in their approach to an exit saying for example - and it has been in the media since - that they were determined that London would not be permitted to carry out Eurodollar clearing and that it would have to be done in Paris or Frankfurt. A loss of jobs and of prestige.
I am often asked what I think will happen with Brexit, and I usually answer that I have no idea - because I don't. Today it is only possible to surmise given the comments one hears, and until such time as the negotiations start we will not really know in which direction we are going. But I can guess this much, which is that if parliament in Britain goes against the wish of the people there will be trouble, and that if parliament says it demands certain conditions from Europe, they are unlikely to get them - and then what are they going to do?
I guess it's a case of que sera sera!