Former British Labour Prime Minister (PM) Clement Atlee had once dismissed referendums, saying: “I could not consent to the introduction into our national life of a device so alien to all our traditions as the referendum, which has only too often been the instrument of Nazism and Fascism.” However, Atlee would not have thought that the very device he was referring as an alien would one day turn out to be a devastating weapon for British economy and its people.
And it will not stop there, it’s about to create another split within the United Kingdom (UK) as the clamours have already begun in Scotland and in Northern Ireland for their own departure from the UK. In Scotland, 62 per cent people voted to remain in the European Union – strikingly higher than Britain’s overall 48 per cent Remain vote.
The UK has long been described as a half-hearted and hesitant member of the EU. It could be traced back to 1951: the year European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) was set up. However, it was only in 1961 that Britain applied to join the group, almost a decade later. It took over a decade for Britain to join the EEC in 1973.
Even at that time, the British were not convinced of the benefits of getting into this group and it was only through a referendum in 1975 that UK became part of it. Outgoing PM David Cameron also hoped to emulate his illustrious predecessor but miserably failed in reading the warning signs.
Last year in October, The Economist published an article titled The Reluctant European predicted that, thanks to Europe”s migration crisis and the euro mess, there was a realistic possibility of a majority of Britons opting out if a referendum was held. In a historic referendum on June 24, the UK voted to leave the EU.
This happened despite the overwhelming number of economists’ warning that this could be a terrible idea. Yet, when country’s fair minded people spoke, only 48 per cent of the population listened.
Those who wanted the “Brexit reality” have blamed the influx of migrants, especially from Islamic countries and the volatile euro; the deepening financial crisis in several European countries, such as Greece, Portugal and others; the aggressive Brussels bureaucracy and the loss of sovereignty.
However, the whole referendum was conducted without facts. The Brexit campaign was designed in a way that revolved around only these emotional issues – sovereignty and nationalism – which were used as driving force behind the citizens’ sentiment. Far beyond the comparatively sensible argument of political sovereignty, pro-Brexit politicians won with anti-immigration invective and lies.
But, the UK needs to understand that “the issue before it is “integration” and not “immigration”. It needs to change the focus of the problem from the physical reality of immigration to the political and economic challenge of integration.
As per European Council on Foreign Relations’ latest report, Britain’s vote for Brexit may trigger a “political tsunami” which could “paralyse” whole EU. Several “insurgent” parties across Europe have called for Britain’s referendum to be emulated in their own countries, with pushes for at least 34 referendums in the coming years, the report said. How quickly the UK became so vulnerable that it is on the verge of facing the worst ever economic downturn courtesy, “referendum”.
The impact of Brexit will be too devastating to contemplate for Britain. It’s no more a political issue and it has huge economical consequences. And, the tumbling of the pound to a 30-year low has already given a glimpse of what is in offing.
More than $2 trillion was wiped off global markets in just a day. Credit rating agency Moody has already downgraded its rating from “stable” to “negative”. A Brexit would be self-immolation for Britain if it does not get real in time. It seems that there is going to be a considerable remorse and regret among those who voted for Brexit without really knowing what it meant.
Awakening to a stock market crash and a precipitous decline in the value of the pound that Britain did not see in more than 30 years, the citizens now face a series of economic shocks that analysts say will only worsen before they improve.
The consequences of the ‘leave’ vote will not be limited to the EU or Britain, it will be felt worldwide. Some British citizens say that they now regret casting a ballot in favor of Brexit. “Even though I voted to leave, this morning I woke up and the reality did actually hit me”, a woman said in an interview. “If I’d had the opportunity to vote again, it would vote for stay”, she added.
If you look at the demographic break-up of the whole referendum, you will find at least 70 per cent of university graduates who have been in favour of the EU; an equally disproportionate 68 per cent of those who hadn’t finished high school, were for Brexit. The result shows how the generations were divided. Just two out of five people aged 65 and over, backed staying in. In contrast, a total of 75 per cent of voters aged 18 to 24 voted to remain in EU.
In other words, those who voted for Brexit were of the older age group, working class, less educated and poor. And those who voted to remain in EU were youngsters, ethnically diverse, better educated and better off. “There is one lesson we can take from the Brexit referendum: We are now watching the emergence of a new political divide that is likely to shape the politics of the Western world for the next 50 years”, wrote noted US journalist Fareed Zakaria in his column this week.
“The margin of victory for Brexit is so narrow that just two persons out of hundred – if voted for “remain” – could have changed the whole script. Britain should be cautious in interpreting the result. It simply can’t write off 48 per cent people who have voted to remain in the EU”, said Prof Ummu Salma Bava, European Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University.
“Britain will be made to suffer for its choice”, European analysts had warned much before the scheduled referendum. The president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, spoke about the Brexit, and said that all the members of the EU would suffer, as would the postwar structure of Europe that had kept the peace.
“No one can foresee what the long-term consequences would be. As a historian, I fear that Brexit could be the beginning of the destruction of not only the EU, but also of Western political civilisation,” Tusk added.
Britain have already voted to withdraw from the EU, but there have been voices in business, diplomacy, politics and European polities desperately asking if the issue can be revisited.
UK’s vote to quit the European Union came as a great shock to the whole world including the EU. But the result shouldn’t have been such a surprise. As the EU has never been particularly popular with common citizens in the UK, particularly England, and in the weeks leading up to the vote many opinion polls showed the ‘Leave’ side with a narrow lead.
There are multiple theories that explain why hostility towards the EU has risen in the UK during the past couple of decades. But in all of them, what has certainly happened is the fact that decades of globalisation, deregulation, and policy changes that favored the wealthy have left Britain a more unequal place with vast regional disparities.
“It’s the shape of our long lasting and deeply entrenched national geographic inequality that drove differences in voting patterns”, Torsten Bell, Director, Resolution Foundation, a bipartisan think tank, was quoted to have said. Top global economists had already predicted that British exit would knock one per cent to six per cent off UK gross domestic product: anything from a moderate slowdown to a deep recession.
However, these numbers are largely guesses and can’t quantify the more far-reaching consequences of Brexit. One thing that most world economists and experts of global affairs are sure of is the fact that this referendum was a watershed moment in the history of Britain that brought two related trends to light: the rising clout of anti-establishment politics and the retreat from globalisation.
The most remarkable tragedy is not that Britain is going to be isolated or that the global economy is in turmoil but rather that it is the young generation in the UK who will be denied the opportunities that the EU could offer even though the majority of ‘Leave’ votes were from senior citizens. The current generation will be the biggest losers. Perhaps the British PM ought to have gauged the implications of the referendum with greater sobriety.
“In an age when technology is integrating more tightly together and delivering tremendous flows of innovation, knowledge, connectivity and commerce, the future belongs to those who build webs not walls, who can integrate and not separate, to get the most out of these flows. Britain leaving the EU is a lose-lose proposition. I hope the “Regrexit” campaign can reverse Brexit”, writes Thomas L Friedman for The New York Times.
Never forget, after the destruction of World War II, the EU project “emerged as a force for peace, prosperity, democracy and freedom in the world. This is one of humankind’s great achievements. Rather than let it be destroyed we must use the shock of the Brexit vote to re-imagine, reform, and rebuild a new Europe,” noted Economist Eric Beinhocker writes.
<div style="display: inline !important;"> * Soon after the result was announced, Prime Minister Cameron said: “The process of implementing the decision in the best possible way must now begin.” However, he also said that he would leave that process to his successor after his resignation in October. This opens a window of at least four months during which Britain could decide not to proceed, and avoid consequences from Europe.
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* If the next prime minister does trigger the departure process, Britain then has two years to negotiate the terms of its leaving. While EU rules say that membership is revoked automatically at the end of that period, Britain could theoretically use that time to negotiate an alternative plan.
* The referendum is not legally binding. The process of leaving does not begin until the prime minister officially invokes Article 50 of the European Union’s governing treaty. So he or she could, in theory, carry on as if the vote had never happened. Cameron has already delayed the implementation of Article 50 by refusing to invoke it himself.