One of the disadvantages of being a developing markets-focused journalist based in London these days is that there are just so many distractions.
I’m not talking about bright lights and the big city. Rather, the slow-motion car crash that is Brexit makes it very difficult to focus on anything else. How am I supposed to think about Turkey’s elections or China’s green finance policies when the House of Commons does absurd things like vote to reject every Brexit option on offer? Or when the prime minister can’t even get enough support to resign properly?
The UK’s collective national breakdown is catching. Apparently the last stage of post-Imperial decay is a return to provincialism. We’re so transfixed, we’re all struggling to focus on anything happening outside the UK’s borders. Maybe this means the hard Brexiteers have already won.
Fortunately for me, the upside of the UK’s descent into bathos is that the country may be coming into my wheelhouse; I’ll no longer have to hide my distraction. Potentially catastrophic news for the future of the UK economy is good news for me, in that I’ll be able to justify my Brexit obsession professionally.
In late March, veteran emerging markets investor Mark Mobius warned that the UK looks like an “emerging market” now. As someone who pioneered fund investment into volatile developing economies three decades ago, his insights are worth listening to. Mr Mobius predicts the pound will crash a further 25% in a 'no deal' scenario, a prospect that is creeping closer by the day as MPs dither and Brussels throws up its hands in despair. Ratings downgrades would loom. Borrowing costs would go up.
His are not the only gloomy predictions out there. Mark Carney, governor of the Bank of England, has predicted material damage to the UK economy in the event of a chaotic exit. Sir Mark Sedwill, the country’s chief civil servant, warned ministers against everything from surging food prices to hamstrung police and security services in a leaked letter outlining professional public servants’ assessment of the damage we are about to inflict on ourselves.
Suddenly, decoupled from the EU and facing more political dysfunction than the country exhibited in the aftermath of World War Two, the UK will go from looking like a safe bet for investors to the kind of place where questions about unpredictability dog every capital allocation decision. Political risk is back in a big way. Having spent most of the past decade looking at the Egypts and South Africas of the world, these are dynamics I have a handle on.
To be clear, I’m not implying the UK will descend into state capture or Tahrir Square any time soon. However, its image as a bulwark of global stability underpinned by rock solid institutional foundations is in tatters.
For citizens of some of the UK's former colonies, the irony of watching the country come undone so spectacularly merits some humour. They have, after all, endured years of Western condescension and policy intervention in their own countries. “I am an Indian and I can tell you that Brits take forever to leave,” tweeted one academic. “If only they had strong, Western institutions guiding them towards civilisation,” a Kenyan writer lamented.
Aside from the superficial pleasure of watching a largely unmerited superiority complex laid low, the important point is that now that the UK is behaving like an emerging market, I have the opportunity to become a star. Who would have thought insights on currency volatility, crumbling public services, debt sustainability and tribal politics would be so useful here at home?
BBC Question Time: call me, I’m available.
Adrienne Klasa is the development finance editor of fDi Magazine. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org