Close up of green grass
(featured image: Jonathan Cutrer/Flickr Public Domain)

When everything else is not the same

… because it is rare for just one thing to be different

Koen Smets
6 min readMay 13, 2022


You may have missed (or forgotten) it during the COVID-19 pandemic, but at the end of January 2021 Britain finally left the EU, more than four years after this step was decided in a referendum. In the midst of the disruption (not least to travel) that characterized this period, the effects of this momentous event were minor. But this spring, as travel restrictions melted away like the winter frost, Britons were travelling to warmer climes again, and ran into an experience that was quite different from what they had been used to.

A queue at passport control
The unintended consequences of Brexit — all else did not remain the same (image: Oren Levine/Flickr CC BY NC ND 2.0)

The peak holiday season is still to come, but even during this Easter break, travellers between the UK and Spain were already complaining about “2-hour long queues” at passport control (as they can no longer use the automatic gates), and about not being able to travel with a passport that is too old. And it was not only the travellers who were inconvenienced. British expatriates in Spain, who had been enjoying the equivalence of their British driving licence with the Spanish equivalent while the UK was in the EU, found that things had changed for them too. As the grace period after Brexit expired on 30 April, they were no longer allowed to legally drive using their British licence.

More than one difference

These are illustrations of what we might call the ceteris paribus fallacy, the thinking error of wrongly assuming that, when we consider a difference between two things, it is the only difference, and that everything else is the same. Many who voted for Brexit because they were convinced that having more control over laws and policy was a good thing, may not have considered that it also meant that travel to the EU would be affected, and that they’d be treated no different from people with a Vietnamese, Nigerian or Peruvian passport.

Something else that caught my eye recently is the aftermath of what has been termed the Great Resignation — the para- and post-pandemic realization of many workers that they didn’t quite like their job, their boss, or their…



Koen Smets

Accidental behavioural economist in search of wisdom. Uses insights from (behavioural) economics in organization development. On Twitter as @koenfucius