In our ongoing exploration of some of the most important global issues, today we sit down with ex-Liverpool striker Luis Suarez, a regular guest during his time at Anfield, who was kind enough to join us to discuss last night’s decision by UK voters to exit the European Union.
The Liverpool Offside: So, Luis, Brexit. The polls had been close, but deep down it felt as though nobody truly believed voters in the United Kingdom would choose to extricate themselves from the European Union. Are you as surprised as the rest of us?
Luis Suarez: Looking back, with the polls so close and supporters of populist far-right movements in Western democracies often under-reporting leading up to a vote, it can almost seem inevitable. Still, it’s hard not to be taken aback, though perhaps it’s simply a desire to want to believe in the best of humanity and the incompatibility of that hope with the reality of more than 16 million people saying leave in a referendum that in the end became something of a stand-in, single-issue vote on the other.
TLO: The Other?
LS: The other. Those who don’t look or speak or believe the same. I hesitate to say racism and xenophobia, not because that didn’t play a significant role in the way far, far too many of those 16 million voted, rather because to do so can only serve to further miss the point, the underlying motivation, which is fear. Fear of the other is the end result; it’s the worst of human nature, actively stoked and nurtured by populist politicians seeking their own, larger share of power and money and glory. But underneath all of that is a different kind of fear. Fear of losing one’s place in the world. Fear of change. Fear that one is unprepared and ill-equipped for what comes next.
These fears are real, valid, and widespread. There are too many who have been left behind by politicians, by the economy, by leaders in London and Brussels and in any number of other places in the western world. People who can remember a time when they—or who have been told of a time by their parents—when things were more certain, when success felt achievable and the world didn’t seem so terrifying and their future so uncertain. At its most base level, this is the underlying fear that is being exploited. The racism, the xenophobia, the fear of the other that at times leads to violence and lashing out. All of those are symptoms.
TLO: What comes next, then, and is there a way to address the underlying causes?
LS: There are, but it’s difficult to see a Brexit vote leading to any of them, at least in the short-term. The Pound has fallen precipitously and a recession or worse appears inevitable. In the past 24 hours, England’s economy has bled the equivalent of around two decades of European Union payments—the savings of which was the flimsy window-dressing on the Leave campaign’s otherwise fear and hate-fuelled platform. That’s going to make things worse for the vast majority of people who voted leave, many of whom are older and who will increasingly be relying on government services like the NHS in the coming years.
TLO: What about your area of expertise, Luis? What about English football and the Premier League?
LS: The immediate impact, obviously, is the falling Pound and struggling market’s effect on transfer fees and wages. I’ve been as excited as any Liverpool fan seeing some of the names linked, and just scribbling on the back of an envelope earlier, rumoured transfer target Mahmoud Dahoud—a real talent in midfield for Borussia Monchengladbach and, in my humble opinion, a future superstar—would cost Liverpool around £1.5M more today than he did yesterday based on a reported €30M valuation.
He would also, in a world where England had completed its exit from the EU, struggle to qualify for a work permit given he’s only 20 years old and so not a regular for the German national team yet. He likely will become that—and Liverpool might be able to get him a work permit as an exceptional talent by arguing that—but it wouldn’t be a certainty. Obviously that won’t be an issue for at least a year or two, but Liverpool will likely struggle to sign players from the continent before they become stars once the United Kingdom does extricate itself from the EU—players like Dahoud, or like Emre Can and Divock Origi.
The bigger risk, though, is further down the line if exiting the European market dilutes the Premier League talent pool. Some might argue English kids will get the chance to step up as a result, but being part of the common market hasn’t stopped Germany developing talent. It hasn’t stopped Spain. And it’s not what is stopping England. Forcing English clubs to rely on local talent if that talent isn’t good enough will only hurt the Premier League’s appeal, decreasing revenues over the medium-term and kicking off a vicious cycle of declining talent and decreasing global relevance.
Beyond that, there are reasons to fear that a rise in far-right nationalism stoked by populist politicians fuelling hatred, fear, and xenophobia could have the unintended side effect of bringing a more violent element back into play off the pitch, but that’s probably an issue for another day.
TLO: Quite. So, Luis, what does human flesh taste like? Chicken?
LS: Pork, actually.