Brexit and the Traveler: Europe Just Got Even More Interesting


Since 1066, the English Channel has been a very effective moat for Great Britain. But during our generation, Britain has seen a new kind of invasion from the Continent — a peaceful, political one. And with the Brexit vote, the British people have decided to pull up the drawbridge.

I remain a staunch supporter of the European Union. But with the UK’s decision to leave the EU, my idealism has taken a serious blow. I’m flying to Europe this weekend. And from a practical standpoint, for travelers heading to Europe soon, I don’t see much of a difference…other than a cheaper pound sterling, and plenty to talk about with your new European friends. But what about the long-term consequences? Here’s my take.

For years in my lectures, I’ve said this about the European Union:

Imagine Europe amid the ruins of World War II. As people began to dig out, they thought, “Twice in our lifetimes, we’ve gotten into horrific wars. We have to do something drastic, or our children will be digging out again. We need to weave our economies together — especially France and Germany — so that going to war in the future will be inconceivable.” So European citizens got together and created the European Union, a “United States of Europe.” It’s been a stuttering evolution — two steps forward and one step back — for nearly 70 years. Of course, there’s no meaningful union unless you can talk sovereign nations into giving up real sovereignty. That’s a tough sell — especially in Europe. But the EU is here to stay. And even with its cumbersome political correctness and its almost comical excess of regulations, the EU has created a free trade zone big enough to compete with the USA and the emerging economies of China and India. But the real triumph of the EU is that Europe is at peace.

With the Brexit, I realize my statement that “the EU is here to stay” may be wrong after all. Suddenly, the future of the EU is murky. What I do know is that the EU is about to shrink from 28 to 27 member nations and lose 17% of its economic clout. The world’s gateway to the EU is logically London — as English is the language of globalization and London is the world’s financial capital. The EU has lost that. Britain has lost it, too.

I also see the Brexit vote as a symptom of the populism and nativism that is sweeping the Western world. This is a big day for those who believe cooperation is for losers. It’s a good day for Putin, and it’s a good day for Trump. Is it as good day for the white, working-class, less-educated, rural and rust belt voters who cast the deciding ballots? Time will tell. But one thing’s for sure: At home and abroad, those voters feel their voices are not being heard.

The referendum didn’t instantly pull the UK out of the EU. That will require a long negotiation, likely lasting years. So now Britain and Europe have to deal with the reality of an acrimonious divorce. Both parties will try to come out on top, both will be attempting to compromise with an undercurrent of anger, and both will lose the shared efficiencies they’ve enjoyed as a couple. One thing is clear: It will be messy, and there will be no winners.

You can also think of this unlinking biologically: When something has grown together, it’s painful to tear it apart. No matter how slow and careful you are, it’s going to hurt.

Nobody knows exactly what will come of the Brexit. But let’s try looking into our hazy crystal ball:

When the dust settles, will the UK be better off? It depends on your thoughts about free trade and immigration. One way or another, my hunch is that it will become poorer. And I believe British voters will suffer from “exiters’ remorse” when the consequences of their protest vote sink in.

Will Scotland break from the United Kingdom? Hard to say. But I believe that, had they known about the Brexit when they voted to stay in the UK two years ago, the Scots would have voted differently.

Northern Ireland — which voted to stay in the EU — suddenly has more in common with Republic of Ireland. Will this be a nudge toward a (finally) unified Ireland? Or will it destabilize a delicate peace? Stay tuned.

And what about the future of the EU? It’ll always be Europe. But the momentum toward further integration and expansion has hit a wall. Nationalistic, isolationist movements are on the rise across Europe, and the Brexit vote will only embolden them. The potential domino effect — for Europe and beyond — is unknown.

And finally, how will this affect travelers? For now, nothing has changed (except that the pound is on sale). For the time being, travel to the UK and Europe remains as it was. And down the road, I imagine there may be a few more borders to cross and a little less shared affluence. In a few weeks, I’ll be in England, where I’m looking forward to hearing — and sharing — local opinions on the Brexit.

I’m famous for saying “Keep on traveling” during times of upheaval in Europe. And that’s my response now, too. I don’t want to be glib or naive about the challenges that face the UK and the EU in the coming months. It’s going to be a long and difficult process. But as I head for the airport, I’ve chosen to look on the bright side of life: For American travelers, Europe just got even more interesting.

Keep on traveling!



24 Replies to “Brexit and the Traveler: Europe Just Got Even More Interesting”

  1. Nice thoughts and well written. I’m not sure where all this is going either, but no doubt while I enjoy all the cheap imports here in the U.S., I too am concerned about how globalization has driven our factories to other countries and left workers unemployed or underemployed in low-paying jobs. It seems we are now getting a backlash. There will likely be a period of some readjustment, then further pressing on to more integration and globalism. I think the optimism you express with your “Keep on traveling” is the more essential human nature and will prevail.

  2. My USA portfolio lost 3.5% today. Thanks nativist tea bagger isolationist fear mongering wall builders! Your ignorance is on trajectory to destroy the western world.

  3. Thanks for your insight. Was wondering how this would impact other countries in the EU. Such a complicated situation with far reaching ramifications, it’s great to read your take on it. I plan to keep on traveling – France in Oct.

  4. I am very disappointed in the UK… One thing I know for sure I won’t be using British air to connect thru Europe any time in the next many years. I will stay away from England. I’ve traveled there a lot and now time to see those EU countries that call to me. The EU is super great for the many countries in Europe! It is sad that this vote even took place.

  5. The EU is a front for the criminal banking system. There has to be a better way to promote peace.

    The EU starved the citizens of Greece to bail out the financial parasites at Deutsche Bank. F the EU.

    Congrats to Britain from breaking free of the yokes of “free trade” and parasitic banking interests.

    Time for the EU, and the corrupt NATO, to disband and be replaced by an organizations that serve the people, not the corporations.

  6. BBC has already interviewed some people with Buyer Remorse. There is a fascinating article on the BBC that outlines some reasons why the vote went the way it did and the number one reason that they gave, was that the financial impact was explained in such a way that it was discounted by voters. They were so isolated and feeling disenfranchised that they did not believe the “experts.” We live in interesting times. Being a Baby Boomer, I really thought having just missed WWII, protested Viet Nam, ducked and covered, seen men walk on the moon, the invention of computers and more, that the interesting times element would start to slow down. It seems to have picked up the pace.

  7. Very very well written with a great explanation. I just don’t understand why humans need to self destroy to make a change. I think this will greatly effect the US if not immediately financial, but with the election ahead, this is a very fragile time for us too.

  8. Thanks Rick! I love your introductory comments. Why indeed has “cooperation” become a negative virtue? Just as you ended your statements, I too will stay positive and optimistic. Thanks for the pep talk Rick!

  9. Thanks for your commentary Steve.
    You’ve made the whole thing much clearer, for me anyway. T

  10. What a wonderful day for Democracy! Anytime, free people, decide their own fate, it is a day to be celebrated (even if you don’t agree with the outcome).

  11. I have no interest in travelling back to England now. It is so sad to think that xenophobia is so prevalent there, and it will be sadder, indeed, if Holland and France follow suit, as threatened.

  12. Very insightful comments, Rick. I, too, am disturbed at the way isolationist (and often hateful) leanings are gaining in the West; we in the US aren’t immune to them, either.

    The fact that the UK is the first to exit the EU doesn’t surprise me; after all, I never believed the British people totally bought into the united-Europe philosophy. For example, when the British people talk of going to France or Italy for vacation, they say they’re “going abroad.” And they refer to countries on the continent as being in “Europe.” Hello! Haven’t they looked at a map lately?! The UK is in Europe!

    I’ve often thought that if the UK were able to physically change its geographic position on the globe, it would move west across the Atlantic, closer to the US and farther away from mainland Europe.

    But Brexit should also be a wake-up call to the powers-that-be in the EU; lighten up a bit … recognize that nations are concerned about terrorists sneaking into their borders … acknowledge cultural differences … and allow member states a greater degree of autonomy. Who knows … maybe then, in the distant future, the UK would want to rejoin the EU.

    My heart breaks over this decision because I love the UK and the British people. I won’t stop traveling there or to other European countries, but it definitely won’t be the same.

    Thank you for a very well-thought-out commentary, Rick.

  13. Very insightful. My fabulous Uncle is n your Scandanavia tour, as I write. I am sharing this with him immediately. Safe travels…..

  14. Hi All…first off Rick–love the show. Listen to the podcast every week.

    Secondly, I live in London, but am an American expat the used to (and still owns a house) live on Queen Anne, Seattle.

    (Note-I was on the ‘Remain’ side. I also heard Boris Johnson and Michael Gove’s argument for ‘leave’ and felt they had valid points. I DID NOT feel that any way, shape, or form it their arguments were tinged in racism, full stop.)

    Americans may not understand this when looking at a map, but Brits have never ever considered themselves part of “Europe”. When I walk around my SW London neighbourhood, we talk about possibly doing a holiday “in Europe” or to a lesser extent “the continent”. The concept of “Euroscepticism” is a very real thing here—and please do not think that “Euroscepticism” equals “racism”—it’s not. Sometimes you have to actually live in a country for a long amount of time to understand this concept.

    Over the last few weeks, one common theme that was bantered about was “Let’s have the UK follow the ‘Norway Model’.” And that’s what we appear to be moving to—going from the EU to the EEA (European Economic Area) of which Iceland, Norway, Liechtenstein, [sort of] Switzerland are a part of. The last I checked, there are not any horrible, draconian barriers to entry of any of these countries. (Despite what the ‘remain’ side may have warned—but fair enough, there was a bunch of hyperbole on both sides before the referendum.)

    Rick—you’re Norwegian. The UK will look a lot more like…hmmm…Norway after this is done. Believe it or not, I don’t think the world will actually end and the sky will not fall.

  15. Thank you, Rick, for sharing your take on Brexit. I hope not too many walls go up across Europe.

  16. Great insight, Rick.

    I personally think it’s telling that both Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin think the Brexit is a beautiful thing. Let that marinate for a bit…

    To highlight how tone-deaf Trump is to the demographics, be was in Scotland for the opening of a golf course and praised the UK on the choice to leave. Except Scotland was the part of Britain that voted overwhelmingly to remain. Even if he actually knew that he would’ve probably said the same dumb thing. Narcissists believe their never wrong…

    I have relatives in King’s Sutton in Banburyshire. I was inboxing my Aunt and one of my cousins. My cousin voted to remain, and she’s 29. Her mother voted to leave, and she’s–well, much older than 29 obviously. The generational divide was obvious in this vote, but also educational divide: almost 70% of Britons that voted leave weren’t college degreed. Over 70% of Britons that voted remain, were.

    Frankly if you are fearful of immigration and anti-intellectual, you were susceptible to the bill of goods Boris Johnson, Micheal Gove and Nigel Farage sold you. The working class that blame Brussels for their woes need only to the Tories that have have their run these last few years. Real talk.

  17. The U.K. is only 4 percent of the World Economy. The downturn on the stock market was a reaction to people’s fear of things that have have not happened yet and might not happen.

    Many investors are Chicken Littles that follow some financial networks like they are a bunch of sheep.

  18. It was the Remain campaign that was fearful. They used “Project Fear” to scare people into voting against Brexit. Among the scares were a 10 percent cut in pensions and a nearly 20 percent decline in home values.

    Brexit supporters are the opposite of fearful. They want national sovereignty and a return to self-government. It’s the Brexit opponents who want their own country run by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats. About 60 percent of British laws are enacted by the EU, not the British. No independent citizen should want that.

    The EU’s ridiculous bureaucracy is indeed infamous.

  19. Thank you, Rick, for a good balanced view.

    The real issue in the Brexit is immigration, specifically, from Islamic countries. Yes, I’m aware of the PC belief that Islam is a peaceful religion and that migrants enrich the culture yadda yadda yadda. But the fact remains that to a devout Muslim, Christians are infidels; and if they allow women and gays to openly display their freedoms, as in Europe, they are repulsive to most Muslims. No amount of lipstick on this pig can turn it into a beautiful lady! Even if only 1% of 500,000 Muslims coming into Europe are violent, then there is a small army of 5,000 sworn enemies moving freely within Europe’s borders (actually, both the number of migrants, and the percentage of violence are probably significantly higher).

    In much of the EU, “intolerance” and “hate speech” (which are very broadly defined) are crimes that will get you into jail, and even if you have free speech, as in England, there is little you can do to stop mass Muslim migration – that decision is made by elites in Brussels who are passionate supporters of open borders but are insulated from the real effects. Small wonder, then, that so many British want to take control of their destiny back into their own hands before it’s too late.

  20. I appreciate and like your perspective…very interesting times! What I find most interesting is really how close the vote was…won by majority…just barely. I agree that “remorse” is likely!

  21. It’s the Brexit opponents who were fearful. Their campaign was even named “Project Fear.” Among the threats were a 10 percent decline in pensions and an 18 percent decline in home values.

    They’re also xenophobic. That word was derived from the Greek words for “stranger” and “fear.” Certainly the EU’s elites are strangers to their subjects, and fear letting them run their own lives and make decisions democratically.

    Brexit supporters are the opposite of fearful. They want a sovereign nation with self-government. The opponents are fearful. Instead of being self-reliant, they want their lives run by unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats who will define cucumbers and bananas for them.

    These bureaucrats are indeed ridiculous. When I departed Paris I tried to trade a 5 Euro for $5. The teller told me I couldn’t because I didn’t have a receipt for the Euros.

    It seems like every time there’s a vote on the EU, it loses. A lot of countries want out. A lot of countries wish they had never joined.

    As far as prosperity is concerned, I’m sure the Swiss don’t regret their decision to stay out. They are prosperous, tolerant, cooperative, and non-isolationist. Norway isn’t in a rush to join the EU either. Free trade can flourish without the Euro. It’s in the EU’s self-interest to maintain trade with Britain.

    The ultimate success of Brexit depends on how the British manage events. The future is in their hands, as it should be.

  22. I find some of your comments, such as “This is a big day for those who believe cooperation is for losers,” to be offensive. I don’t think Brexit was about a desire to not be cooperative, but more about regaining control of their own destiny. I’m not xenophobic, I believe in LEGAL immigration but not the steady stream of illegal immigrants who don’t have any desire to assimilate into their host country’s culture. I believe in America first, because we have so many people in need within our own country. And people who might disagree with me will take to name calling such as “nativist tea bagger isolationist fear mongering wall builders!” Talk about cooperation! Those of us who disagree with the liberal views are labeled “racist” or worse. Radical Islam continues to perpetrate terrorist attacks all over the world, with the latest being in Turkey. I’m waiting for your self-serving “keep on traveling” blog post on that one, even though the State Department warnings about travel to Turkey were very clear.

  23. 52% of people in Britain voted to leave the EU….yet 100% of the media denounce it and oppose leaving. To see so many people’s views go totally unrepresented in the press is absolutely terrifying and should be seen as observable proof of just how divergent the interest between the political class and the people they presume to rule over has truly become.
    Clearly there is something worthy of subverting and I am glad to see that Britons still have the political savvy to recognize it and the courage to do it.

  24. Rick,

    First of all, thank you for all that you do. You and your shows have been a great model for everything that a U.S. citizen should do and how a U.S. citizen should behave when traveling in Europe.

    I was fortunate to have a business trip to England about 15 years ago, and I had the inspiration to take along my then 10 year old daughter (mom and the younger kids stayed at home). The business was to be conducted in Lancaster, but we planned 3 days in London beforehand (because its London – duh). Because God gave me just a tiny bit of wisdom – and not much more – I was wise enough to plan the London expedition with things I knew she would love (we saw the London version of Wicked, we went to Trafalgar Square where Mary Poppins’ said to feed the birds, we spent all sort of times at Covent Garden, we rode the London Eye, etc.) and of course we went to the Tower of London. There, the Yoeman Warder started the tour by asking “How many of you were from U.S.? (we cheered) How many are from Europe? (they cheered) How many from the U.K. (they cheered) ?” and at that point he said “Ahhh, I actually had thought the U.K. was in Europe” and everyone laughed because the U.K. natives had not identified as Europeans.

    When I got to Lancaster and we had spent several days there, my daughter said to me “This is so different than London.” And she was right, it was. Obviously, London was huge and Lancaster was small. But, also Lancaster was so English, and London was so international. Lancaster was so friendly, London was so like Chicago (our home) – not unfriendly, but visitors to the city were not so special.

    My friend from Lancaster insisted that my daughter attend school with her daughter at the Lancaster Girls Grammar School when we were there. This was such a wonderful experience for my daughter. Actually, I wish I could have attended the Lancaster Girls Grammar School instead of what I was doing – that school was awesome and the girls embraced my daughter as if she was some sort of foreign dignitary. It was an great experience for her. (Most frequent question from the kids: Do Americans really ride yellow school buses?)

    My awkward point is, the people of Lancaster were proud of being English and proud to show off the best of their town to their American visitors (who. BTW, loved the fact that they were in an English town with duck eggs for breakfast, tea and crumpets, etc.). My daughter and I loved Lancaster and we loved England. In Lancaster and Blackpool and in all of Lancashire, we felt we were in England – in London, we felt we were in London. Both places were great, and both were different.

    When I looked at the Lancaster vote on the Brexit and saw that 51% voted to exit, – it broke my heart because I don’t think that the Brexit will serve the good people of Lancaster well in the end. But, I think that part of the reason for the vote stemmed from people of Lancaster’s desire to maintain their English identity. They don’t aspire become the “International London”. They like who they are – they are English.

    I can’t help but feeling that the Brexit vote was somewhat fueled but this type of mentality – We want to be English and to remain English – we don’t want to become so diverse and international like London.

    I can only hope and pray that things work out OK for everyone.

    My 2 cents (2 pence).

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