Deon Gouws: Bremain to Confused and back again. Why I’m voting EU.

The big day has finally arrived as Brits go to the polls making their mark on whether the country will remain within or exit the European Union. The bookmakers and Pound strength suggests a ‘Remain’ victory but as Leicester City have shown, one just never knows these days. Credo’s CIO Deon Gouws finds himself on the voter role. In a recent interview with Biznews’ Alec Hogg, Gouws found himself in the confused camp. But after some reflection, he’s now gone full circle, and says he’s going to mark an ‘X’ in the ‘Remain’ column. His main motivating factor is his daughter, while the economic benefits also play their part. In another life Deon may have found himself behind a typewriter, rather than managing investments, and his latest contribution is further testament to that. Happy voting. – Stuart Lowman

Brits head to the polls today to decide on the whether the fate of the country lies within, or outside, the European Union. More magic available at www.zapiro.com.
Brits head to the polls today to decide on the whether the fate of the country lies within, or outside, the European Union. More magic available at www.zapiro.com.

By Deon Gouws*

On the 24th of June 2007 at 18:01, my daughter was born at the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London. An hour or so later, I sent the following text to family and friends: “Exactly 12 years and one hour after the Springboks were first crowned as Rugby World Cup champions…” (followed by my newly-born’s name and the usual vital statistics, of course).

Needless to say, my little girl can hardly wait for her upcoming birthday tomorrow. And she’s not the only one who has long anticipated the day: by the time that she gets to enjoy her first cupcake in celebration, we should all have a pretty good idea whether or not the UK has voted to leave the European Union – a referendum in which the whole world seems to have taken a keen interest.

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Deon Gouws, CIO, Credo Wealth, London

Interestingly enough, my now near-nine-year-old had the strongest views when the topic of Brexit came up in our household last weekend: it was totally clear to her that Mama and I should obviously vote to Remain within the EU! This was news to me, as I’d never discussed the issue with her (and Papa has admitted before that he found himself firmly in the Confused camp as far as this vexed question was concerned).

I couldn’t help but wonder whether she might have been brainwashed by her teachers? How else had the opinion been formed? It turns out that she and her friends had a discussion on a play date a week or so ago (no doubt recollecting visa-free travel en route to last year’s summer holiday on the Adriatic coast, and/or a previous trip to Disneyland Paris) and they all agreed that they actually really, really enjoyed being part of Europe.

From a personal perspective, my family’s long-term wellbeing is understandably the highest priority when deciding how to exercise my vote. Until recently, I was of the opinion that there may be short-term pain if the UK left the EU (as reflected in market volatility, sliding asset prices and a weaker pound), but possibly in return for longer-term gain (i.e. perhaps a Brexit-Britain would turn out to be a better place for my offspring in a few decades’ time).

Read also: Brexit in seven graphs. Why Pound strengthening as Remain gains upper hand.

The closer I got to actually making my cross on that little ballot paper, however, the more I lost conviction in this long-term optimism for a UK outside Europe. In particular, I realised that I had probably been influenced by some of the very emotional debate around immigration. A lot of this boils down to a (largely rational) fear that one’s children will have more difficulty finding employment when they initially try to enter the job market one day (assuming there’s no Brexit), given that they will have to compete with a talent pool of 500 million Europeans (as opposed to “only” 60 million in the UK).

The more I thought about it, however, the more I realised that this was an extremely parochial view; after all, I’m an economic migrant myself!

Moreover, I have always believed that the benefits of immigration far exceed the disadvantages when analysing the impact on any given country. After all, everyone knows that the USA is ultimately a country of immigrants. Over the years, America has become a global superpower in no small part thanks to the fact that the vast majority of those who decided to move there, did so with a strong ambition to succeed, and to give their children a better life than themselves. In the process, they have worked hard, obeyed the laws, and made an unquestionable contribution to the economy (both in terms of their productive inputs as well as their consumption of goods and services).

In an era of technological advancement, mobility and cheap travel, immigration is the way of the world, and fighting against it is a throwback to a long-gone era, in my opinion.

To illustrate: my wife is Singaporean born, half Malaysian Chinese, one quarter English, one quarter Irish, and somewhat Australian (having actually lived in that country for more than half her life). Adding an Afrikaner father to the mix, this makes our daughter one quarter Chinese, one eighth English, one eighth Irish, one fifth French Huguenot, one fifth Dutch settler and about 3.6% Zulu (according to the work of Dr. J.A. Heese). Those numbers don’t quite add up to 100%, but I think the rest is probably mixed blood. She is a truly international child who had three physical passports before she even started pre-school (she qualifies for at least one more).

Read also: Bloomberg View: Here’s how David Cameron is blowing the Brexit Referendum

So, is my daughter British or European? Is she Australian or South African? Is she Chinese? Do we really have to choose? Why can’t she be all of the above? And against this background, can I really fault her – a proud little English rose – when she says that she wants to remain in the EU?

The core Brexit argument seems to boil down to a nostalgic hankering to a past where every Brit used to live in a village and meet once a week over a pint of warm beer and a steak and ale pie in front of a log fire at the local pub, discussing the cricket and the terrible weather on the weekend. I accept that immigration has changed some of this, but I refuse to believe that everything has been worse as a result.

There are of course also a few other reasons why, in the end, I decided to vote Remain.

In short: even though I have argued before that the economic consequences (of either outcome) will probably take years before they are fully understood, it has become increasingly clear that a Brexit decision will lead to a lot of turmoil in financial markets for some time to come. And given that I’m not really convinced of the longer term benefits of Brexit (such as they are), why risk it?

https://twitter.com/carlquintanilla/status/745693439203872768

Finally, there are the personalities of those leading both sides of the campaign. Even though I know and have spoken with some very upstanding citizens on the Brexit side, I believe that ultimately their senior leadership have let them down with their invective rhetoric. In particular, there is the peculiar case of one Alexander Boris de Pfeffel Johnson, “making arguments he knows are wrong for a cause in which he does not believe to win a job for which he is wholly unsuited” (as Jeremy Cliffe from The Economist said on Twitter).

So, having gone nearly full circle: from Remain, to Confused, and back again, I am happy to announce that my final vote will indeed count towards the UK staying on within the European Union.

Tomorrow will be a big day for my daughter, celebrating her last ever birthday in the single digits (not to mention the 21st anniversary of South Africa’s Rugby World Cup victory!). Moreover, we will also know whether or not her wish to continue as a European Brit will be fulfilled. For her sake, I certainly do hope so.

  • Deon Gouws, Chief Investment Officer, Credo Wealth, London
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