As you're probably aware, the citizens of the United Kingdom voted last week to leave the European Union—a move known as Brexit. As the sole member of the Vault team who had a vote in the referendum (I'm a UK citizen), I thought I'd take the opportunity to attempt to explain what's going on—partly because it's the only thing I've been able to pay attention to since it happened, and partly because I know it's a question that's going to be coming up in an awful lot of job interviews over the next couple of months, and it pays to be forearmed.
So what's going on?
Attempting to describe what this means for the country, the region, or the global economy is something of an exercise in futility at this point. At the time of writing, just 4 days after the vote, the British pound has hit lows against the dollar not seen since the 1980s, the British Prime Minister has tendered his resignation, the opposition Labour Party has fallen into disarray, with the majority of its Shadow Cabinet resigning, and opponents of the EU across the continent have been emboldened to the point there have been calls for referenda everywhere from France to Hungary. Oh—and the UK as we know it might be on the verge of breaking up as well. And we're less than a week in at this point—if the country does go ahead and pull out, the timeline for the actual British retreat from Europe could be anywhere from 2 to 4 years, with an unknowable number of knock-on economic and political effects along the way.
So whatever you think of the politics involved, there's no doubt about it: Brexit is a big deal, and is sure to be on the mind of every person who does business in any capacity with any country in Europe.
Which means that if you have an interview this summer or fall, it's probably going to come up at some point. So what do you need to know to be able to cobble together an answer, when even the people who led the campaign don't seem to know what's going to happen next?
Here are a few pointers:
Don't talk about the politics
The level of shock both in the UK and around the world is proof positive that nobody really expected the result that came in. Even on the day of the vote, leading campaigners didn't believe they'd done it:
UKIP leader Nigel Farage says it "looks like 'Remain' will edge it" #EUref— Sky News Newsdesk (@SkyNewsBreak) June 23, 2016
Since then, a lot of the conversation around Brexit has been about trying to figure out why it happened. If you're looking for background, Vox has a decent explainer on some of the arguments that may have driven the vote, but I offer it with a word of caution: there is no easy answer, at least from the perspective of offering a cogent analysis in an interview setting.
We must learn from brexit: Elderly xenophobes will lie to pollsters to hide their racist views, then vote for destructive policies anyway.— Anil Dash (@anildash) June 24, 2016
I mean this sincerely: when the leading theory on a subject is that it was caused by a mix of racism and xenophobia, that's not something you want to spend much time on in any kind of work-related setting, let alone when trying to convince someone to hire you. So unless you're specifically asked about the reasons, I'd recommend focusing on what happens next.
Talk about economic implications
You know what is more or less unanimous when it comes to Brexit? Expert economic opinion. And, while it may not be particularly positive, it offers exactly the kind of framing that most businesspeople care about: an ability to think about the bigger picture, and to figure out how it's going to affect your ability to do business. So with that in mind, you could talk about currency:
The £ has had its biggest two trading-day fall in value since Britain fell off the Gold Standard in 1931 pic.twitter.com/adej25nF5y— Charles Read (@EconCharlesRead) June 27, 2016
You could talk about the UK's credit rating:
You could talk about how economic uncertainty tends to make major businesses uneasy:
Banks Begin Moving Some Operations Out of Britain https://t.co/SKMk92eOsB— FinReg Alert (@FinRegAlert) June 27, 2016
If you want to get all "future of politics," you could talk about the future of the UK's relationship with the US:
Or whether the EU has a future without the UK:
Brexit is the beginning of the breakup of EU https://t.co/PGYyLd0zIL— Nouriel Roubini (@NourielBlog) June 27, 2016
Or the future of the UK itself:
Scotland will seek independence now. Cameron's legacy will be breaking up two unions. Neither needed to happen. https://t.co/4MDj7pndcq— J.K. Rowling (@jk_rowling) June 24, 2016
Work to begin on 'challenges' relating to Northern Ireland border with Republic in preparation for Brexit - David… https://t.co/daY5ekosQ9— Belfast Journal (@belfastjournal) June 27, 2016
Alternatively, if you want to show your understanding of how interconnected the global economy is, you could always talk about the effect on Japanese exports:
The Bottom Line
As you will have surmised, this is by no means an exhaustive list of potential talking points—and there are more emerging by the minute, which makes keeping up with the biggest developments in the story a priority for anyone seeking a position with even a tangential relationship to the issue. But however the story develops, it's important to remember that any answer you give should come from a place of trying to understand the implications of the issue from an informed, business –related perspective. While there's certainly no shame in admitting that you don't know how everything will play out (no-one does—many commentators aren't even sure that the country will honor the result at this point), not knowing anything about the issue is not going to be a good look.
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