If people voted Leave to stick it to the metropolitan elite they might be disappointed. A piece of research published in Regional Studies journal this month found that London is a lot less dependent on EU trade than most other parts of the UK. Furthermore, the regions that voted strongly for leave tended also to be the same regions whose economies were most dependent on the EU.
The researchers used data from the World Input–Output Database to calculate the share of each NUTS-2 region’s economic activity that is dependent on trade with the rest of the EU. They then mapped this against that region’s Leave vote.
Figure 1. Relationship between the NUTS-2 regional votes for leave and the regional gross domestic product (GDP) share due to consumption and investment demand in the other European Union countries, 2010.
Note: R2 = 0.31.
They then did the same with the share of wages.
Figure 2. Relationship between the NUTS-2 regional votes for leave and the regional wage-income share due to consumption and investment demand in the other European Union countries, 2010.
Note: R2 = 0.23.
The findings suggest that the economies and wages in the high Leave voting areas are far more likely to be adversely affected by the UK’s exit from the EU. This is counterintuitive, to say the least. The dominant narrative since the referendum has it that London reaped the benefits of EU membership while the rest of the country has seen precious little.
But, as the authors of the paper point out, London is one of the few truly global cities in the world. Because of its international connections it exports goods and services all over the world. Therefore, even though it exports more to the EU than any other region, as a percentage of its total GDP, the value of those exports is much smaller than in other parts of the UK.
While London’s financial services engage with markets all over the world every day, most of the firms in the rest of the UK’s regions tend to engage with European value- chains rather than genuinely global value-chains. The share of UK domestic GDP which is accounted for by EU demand has remained remarkably stable between 1995 and 2011, although its composition has changed due to the UK’s increasingly complex integration processes with EU global value chains.
[A]lmost every part of the UK outside of London has become more, not less, integrated with the EU over recent years, with the major exception being London. On the other hand, London has benefited from inflows of human capital more than any other city in the world and the majority of these human capital injections come from Europe. Yet, these EU-dominated inflows help London compete globally rather than just across Europe. In contrast, the rest of the UK tends to compete on more of a pan-European scale.
In short, London’s economy is globalised while the economies of other regions are Europeanised.
The report’s appendix breaks down the findings by region and sector but I have summarised them and sorted them as a league table here. There are a few surprises near the top but Inner and Outer London are the least EU dependent of the lot. East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire, one of the areas with the highest Leave voting majority, also has one of the highest dependency on EU trade.
There’s a further twist, though, because the London economy, say the report’s authors, has become detached from that of the rest of the country.
Indeed, the extent to which the London economy is largely disconnected from that of the rest of the UK is observed in the WIOD inter- regional data. Further examination of the detailed interre- gional data8 shows that for all other UK NUTS-2 regions, demand from London only accounts for between 0.7% and 4% of their local GDP.
For all non-London UK regions, the share of their local GDP which is accounted for by the EU demand is greater than the share which is accounted for by demand from London.
It is not surprising that EU markets are more important to UK regions than London markets, given that the EU markets are some 33 times larger than the London markets, and only slightly further away from most of the UK regions than London.
In other words, the economies of many regions are more dependent on trade with the EU than they are on trade with London. Therefore, London’s resilience after Brexit might not help the rest of the country much at all.
We don’t yet know how far Brexit will disrupt trade with the EU. That depends on the terms the government is able to negotiate. Whatever happens, though, there will be more friction in our trade with the EU which will increase costs and reduce the competitiveness of the UK’s exports in the EU. Those regions whose economies are most integrated with the rest of Europe and whose incomes are most dependent on it are likely to suffer disproportionately.
The trouble is, many of these areas are also more dependent on public spending than London. They are therefore likely to lose more from the deterioration in tax revenues and the resulting squeeze on public spending in the wake of Brexit. high Leave voting areas tend to receive a greater proportion of their household income from social benefits. The last thing they need is faltering business revenues.
Brexit is therefore likely to further increase the share of the country’s tax paid by London. Those advocates of devolution who say that they want their region to keep more of its money might want to think about that. Regionalisation might mean London keeping more of its money too and, unless other regions can find new sources of revenue outside the EU, they are likely to find paying for their public services gets even more difficult than it is now.
There will be hard times ahead for many parts of the UK after Brexit. How hard depends on what happens over the next two years. London is likely to fare better than most though. The London elites, by which I mean the real elites with investments and high six figure salaries, not the cycling beardy hipsters, will be just fine. Whatever else people thought they were voting for when they put their crosses in the Leave box, those who wanted to punish rich Londoners will be the first to be disappointed.