Pain for now, but Britain will emerge stronger

The union flag flies over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, in central London.
The union flag flies over the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, in central London. PHOTO: REUTERS

I congratulate the people of the United Kingdom on their decision to leave the European Union.

I lived in both Aberdeen, Scotland, and Great Yarmouth, England, in the 1970s before moving to Singapore in 1980 and settling here, and I found the people there the most friendly and hard-working people you will meet anywhere; the wonderful British sense of humour is legendary.

The roads, towns and living quarters there appeared a bit crammed and crowded, compared with conditions on the European continent. I hate to think what they would be like today; there is just not that much free space on the British Isles.

Before the referendum, the British people were advised by the two major political parties, and virtually everyone else in authority, to remain in the EU.

Even world leaders and foreign financial tycoons tried to influence the outcome.

It is a testimony to the character of the people that they bravely chose to do the right thing.

Now, the UK has to go through a period of adjustment, just like Singapore had to after the somewhat traumatic break-up with Malaysia in 1965.

In the long run, Britain will be stronger outside the union, just like Singapore turned out to be.

It will be free to govern as it wishes, and trade and cooperate with anyone it wants to, without the stifling and expensive bureaucracy of the European Union.

Imagine Singapore within a monetary and political union with other Asean states; it simply wouldn't work, and it doesn't work in Europe - each country is too different.

It is this diversity in cultures and languages that makes civilisation interesting and gives meaning to communities.

British Prime Minister David Cameron gave an amazing speech outside 10, Downing Street last Friday, and again in the House of Commons on Monday.

He was firm, dignified and resolute in defeat.

He will go down in history as a real world-class statesman who gave the UK its independence and its future back.

Politics is a fine balance between leading with radical new ideas, as well as listening to people's desires without falling into appeasing and populist sentiments.

Mr Cameron managed that, and he will be sadly missed from the European scene when he leaves office.

The other EU countries must learn from him and reform quickly to get their finances in balance and secure their borders.

Morten Strange

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 29, 2016, with the headline 'Pain for now, but Britain will emerge stronger'. Print Edition | Subscribe