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Brexit vote a 'turning point': PM Lee

Britain's vote to leave the EU will affect Singapore, say local politicians. 

SINGAPORE: Britain's vote to leave the European Union (EU) is a turning point, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said on Friday (Jun 24), after the UK voted in a referendum to leave the EU. 

The decision reflects the anxiety of the British population over immigration, their resentment at having to negotiate with and accommodate European partners, and their desire to assert British identity and sovereignty, Mr Lee stated.

"Other developed countries also face similar challenges as Britain. We all live in a globalised, interdependent world. The desire to disengage, to be less constrained by one’s partners, to be free to do things entirely as one chooses, is entirely understandable. And yet in reality for many countries disengaging and turning inwards will likely lead to less security, less prosperity, and a dimmer future.

"It is too early to tell, but we need to watch developments carefully. Nobody can foresee all the consequences of the Brexit," Mr Lee wrote on Facebook. He noted that the next few years will be uncertain ones for Britain and Europe. "What new arrangements will be made? Will this hurt investor confidence more broadly, and the global economy? How will Britain’s leaving affect the rest of the EU? How will this affect us, living in Asia but part of the same globalised world?"

Mr Lee added: "Singapore will continue to cultivate our ties with Britain, which is a long standing friend and partner. We hope in time the uncertainty will diminish, and we will make the best of the new reality.

"We wish Britain well. I wish David Cameron well too, who has been a good friend of Singapore and has announced his intention to resign as PM."


"DIVIDED WE LEAVE": THARMAN

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that the markets would react negatively and overshoot, but that "this will not be like 2008 when the house came down". He added that while the uncertainty in the UK and Europe would hurt the rest of the world including Asia, "the more profound questions revolve around politics".

In a Facebook post, Mr Tharman noted that London and Scotland voted to stay in the EU while Wales and the "English provinces outside London" voted to leave. He said: "The majority of the educated class voting to stay; the less educated to leave. Those doing well in their jobs and incomes voting to stay; those who felt they’ve been losing out voted to leave. Many more of the young voted to stay; old voting to leave."

Mr Tharman noted the "growing appeal of nationalist politics, demagogues, and in some cases outright racism" as well as the "weakening of trust and consensus in society, and of the centre in politics".

To tackle it, Mr Tharman said, "the politics of the centre must stay connected to the challenges that ordinary people face - and address their need for jobs and security, and a balance in immigration that preserves a sense of identity. Tackling this without turning inward, and weakening jobs and society further, is the central challenge everywhere."

IMPLICATIONS FOR SINGAPORE

Foreign Affairs Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said he did not expect the Singapore-UK relationship to change significantly as the two had always had a "strong traditional relationship in the economy, in diplomacy, and even in defence relations".

"For instance, almost half our investments in the EU actually go to the UK ... I don't expect that to change significantly," he said on the sidelines of a Maker Faire event.

Meanwhile, Minister for Culture, Community and Youth Grace Fu said that there will be market turmoil ahead, which will affect Singapore.

"The effects on the real economy will come quickly and last for years as investors and businesses work through the possible ramification," said Ms Fu. "UK will have to deal with a messy situation that will cast a dark shadow on the global economy. Brace for gloomier outlook."

"Singapore thrives in a market with free trade and movement of goods and funds," she added in a reply to a comment from a member of the public. "If this signals a more nationalistic and protectionist world, it will not be good for us."

National Development Minister Lawrence Wong agreed that the result of the vote will have implications for Singapore. 

"Beyond the initial market turbulence, this historic move is likely to have far-reaching and longer-term implications on global growth, trade and integration. So while Brexit may not be uppermost on our minds, the decision taken today will have bearing on us," Mr Wong said.

Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said Singapore has lessons to learn from the vote.
"For me, the most important lesson is that change is inevitable and that when it comes, it is the solidarity of a nation’s people with each other and their leaders that will pull them through," said Dr Ng.

"Tomorrow will be a different world for UK people, and only unity and common purpose will lead them through safely and for a better future. Disunity and lack of strong leadership will blight their future, however they voted in the referendum," the Defence Minister added.

AN UNNECESSARY REFERENDUM?

Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kausikan also weighed in on the Brexit vote.

“It isn’t often you see a country commit suicide before your eyes,” said Mr Bilahari to Channel NewsAsia. 

“We are also witnessing the tragically irrational consequences of western democracy. The UK is only an example of the dysfunctionality of a system taken to extremes," he added.

In a Facebook post, Ambassador-at-Large Tommy Koh said Mr Cameron had "messed up big time by holding an unnecessary referendum". 

"The result is a tragedy for the UK and for the EU. It is a victory for populism over rationality. It is a victory for fear over hope. It will probably lead to the secession of Scotland from the UK," he wrote. 

"The global wave of populism which is sweeping the world is a danger to democracy and to democratic institutions. Let us hope that it will not invade Singapore," he added.