Will Brexit London Follow Montréal’s Path to Decline?

“This is a tale of two cities. Two cities with shared histories and multiple similarities — Olympic hosts, Commonwealth cousins, hubs of diversity and cultural capitals. It’s a cautionary tale of what can happen when a referendum is put before the people and, overnight, great cities fracture, public confidence collapses, and good places start to rot,” writes Tyler Brûlé in the Financial Times.

I revisited this post-Brexit piece this week in listening to the companion documentary on Monocole 24’s The Foreign Desk, London and Montréal: what lessons can Quebec teach post-Brexit Britain? This fresh take on Brexit and a possible future path of the UK rises above the tired debate heard from many outlets.

The narrative is from an entrepreneur who spent a decade of his youth in Montréal and built a sprawling publishing and advertising business in London espousing a globalist view. The Monocle world is one of morning dips in Zurich’s lakes followed by shopping for big ticket Swiss furniture, lunch in the Alps buying more big ticket Swiss furniture, and dinner in Tokyo buying big ticket clothes. It is unabashedly pretentious yet thoughtful. Their vision is of global entrepreneurs and craftspeople criss-crossing the globe. Monocle was fiercely Remain in the Brexit debate.

On my only visit to Montréal I had no inclination that it was recently more than a quiet backwater, that it had been Canada’s financial center and now even Bank of Montréal is headquartered in Toronto. I knew it once hosted the Olympics and a baseball team. The ride in from the airport is desolate. The town is sleepy.

A take on Brexit well worth your time and consideration. Mr Brûlé continues:

If you’ve been wondering what might become of London and many other cities in the UK in a post-Leave world, take a drive in from Dorval airport in Montreal. You can’t drive in from Mirabel, the other international airport that was built for the Olympics and Montreal’s boom years, because the rush never came and it is now mothballed…

Montreal is still a delightful place — highly liveable, cheap, culturally interesting and edgier than booming Toronto. It’s also not attractive to international companies or other Canadian companies because of its out-of-step language laws and a lingering sense that much of the sentiment was personal.

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  • DaninMCI

    Seems rather biased view of the Brexit situation. Montreal’s problem is they have poor air connections and suffer from poor weather much of the year. Not to mention the language barrier. They do host an F1 race and are located close to New York but it’s just not an easy or cheap place to travel to. I think this hurts them. By comparison the UK is a central location with strong banking. To me it would be like New York seceding from the Union along with a couple other states like NJ. Sure it would be strange but they would be fine. The Brexit debate is very political with Liberals coming down on the side of stay while the conservatives back Exit. Not unlike the USA between Trump and Hillary. Pick your poison.

  • Greg

    Come on now, Montreal is much more than a backwater or just sleepy.

    I find it has one of the best dining and bar scenes in North America. Top 5 I’d say, given the wasteland that is many mid sized US urban centers.

  • WR

    Brexit is not necessarily an isolationist move that the author makes it out to be. I think it will free the UK to build stronger economic ties with the rest of the world, and the UK’s trade with Europe isn’t simply going to disappear because they don’t want to participate in the EU’s bloated bureaucracy. After all, the EU still trades with China and the US.

  • Jason

    Quebec trying to leave Canada is not the same as the UK leaving the EU. It’s a mistake for Montreal and the rest of Quebec because it’s quaint and cold and speaks French on a continent (hemisphere for that matter) that speaks mainly English and Spanish. It’s also not the largest part of Canada’s economy which is okay in size as the world’s 16th ranked but half the size of the UK’s.

    The UK will be able to command a pass and an EU-lite position on most deals it does with Europe. Sure, the other Europeans are mad about them leaving because they have been and will have always been a net payer, but the UK has the world’s 5th largest economy. London was the center of the world for a long time and many people around the world still connect with it culturally. It will continue to be the world’s most visited destination as many in the USA, Canada, India and Australia hold London in very high regard.

    They might lose the banking which would be huge and inch toward this guy’s argument. But if the UK really wants to keep it they’ll figure out a way to do so by lowering the costs to do that business in London. Brussels and Frankfort shouldn’t start building new shiny office buildings for the banks just yet.

    This guy wanted the UK to remain. It’s a defensible position. But so is the leave argument. It’s a preference the the leave group won. The UK is big enough to have its cake and eat it too. As much as I love Spain, the UK is not Spain. The Spanish could not do this without repercussions. But the English can and they know it.

  • NB

    This article was published nearly two months ago, soon after the vote when he was sore and the country had no government. Today it is clear the new government has an internationalist view of the UK’s future, which is the polar opposite of what Tyler Brulee thought. Tyler is great on what £400 shirts to wear, or which airline to fly in First, but proved himself woefully out of touch on politics.

    As to this bloggers assertions that Leave voters are like Trump voters and that the UK will lose its role in global banking, both are absurd and cannot be supported by even a casual glance at the facts.

  • evan

    Ridiculous article based on a ridiculous premise. Tyler Brulé as an expert on either the UK or Brexit? I don’t think so. We know you hate Heathrow but try and keep things in perspective.

  • Wes

    Heavily-biased article, but I get the drift. Left= good, right= bad. If I need such reinforcement, I can turn on CNN. Let’s stick to travel hacking, please.

  • progapanda

    I’m a bit surprised to see this many wannabe-Boris Johnsons on RTC, I thought Stefan had a completely different reader base!

    And, FWIW (get your facts from somewhere other than the Daily Mail people!):

    1. “…the conservatives back Brexit” – um, no; you may want to refresh your memory on the stance of the Conservative Party on Brexit, or the Economist’s.

    2. “..bloated bureaucracy” – really? 55,000 civil servants representing 500 million citizens? Compare that to the United States, 2.6 million federal civil servants representing 300 million citizens; that comparison will be even more striking if I add national public servants from the EU member states and state civil servants from the States!

    3. “the other Europeans are mad…because they have always been a net payer” – Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, Austria, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Finland are all net payers into the EU budget; net net some of these countries actually contribute even more than the UK does, so no in no shape or form is the UK the lynchpin of the EU budget

    4. “..the world’s most visited destination” – well, that would be the city of Bangkok, or the country of France

    5. “two months ago…the country had no government” – what?

    6. “Tyler Brulee” – what’s that, sounds like an awfully unappetizing dessert!

  • @evan – I threw it out for an interesting take on the debate, possible historic parallels can be instructive, even if imperfect. I also wrote about the good news of London Night Tube on the same day as said the Delta-Virgin combo will benefit some (London-bound travelers) and not others (connecting passengers).

  • @Wes – I put it up for debate. This blog is not limited to travel hacking. There are plenty blogs that cover travel hacking in a vacuum. This blog is about the world and the world of travel, of which travel hacking is a useful part of the toolkit. It would be intellectually irresponsible of me to not engage with the world and pretend nothing exists outside of mileage runs and Walmart runs.

  • @progapanda – I did list the perspective/biases of the author and his media outlet in the piece, and thought with that qualification we could have an interesting debate, oh well! If anything, I found it interesting to learn of Montreal’s once high economic place. I grew up in Toronto’s era.

  • @NB – if I had come across the radio piece earlier I would have shared earlier. I find it an interesting thought experiment and if nothing else, a look at Canada and Montreal history I was previously unaware. “Brexit means Brexit” both means everything and almost nothing, so Ms May certainly earns early plaudits for her deft messaging.

    I didn’t mention Trump here or his supposed voters here.

    The global banking debate is valid one. Certainly some activity will need to shift to EU as matters of legal convenience and necessity. The UK already, similar to the US, has much of the hallmarks of offshore banking center and that may increase as it separates from the EU. All those foreigners buying up London real estate park money in the UK for their interests.

  • @evan – he is a successful entrepreneur that bases his business and majority of employees in UK. UK businesspeople are among those entitled to an opinion on Brexit and many have publicly shared. This one I found novel because it draws a potential historic parallel not widely discussed.

  • Shannon

    how interesting he could connect London with Montreal. Though not totally agree his negative view of Breixt, still found some fresh points

  • progapanda

    @Stefan, I thought this was a worthy post and an interesting comparison by Tyler. My…disaffection, let’s call it, was more towards your earlier comments – I didn’t expect to hear their views on your blog!

  • progapanda

    oops, earlier COMMENTERS, not your comments, Stefan.

  • @progapanda – your points were well-argued and well-taken. This was a case of confirmation bias, people who are strongly in favor of Brexit not willing to consider a novel view, rather than seeing it is an entrepreneur who loves London, has built his business there, and is making a cause shaped by his historical perspective that may help London avoid some possible outcomes of Brexit. How many people seeing Toronto and Montreal now for the first time would thought that four decades ago their roles were reversed?

    For the heck of it I will troll them in a post tonight. Why leave all the fun to commenters?