The decision by British Prime Minister David Cameron to hold a public referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union or should exit the EU—famously known as Brexit—may be described as a disastrous decision propelled by political motives that lacked in savvy perception and shrewd profit and loss calculation. Today, Mr Cameron has acknowledged that the 52 per cent Brexit vote must be respected, but that he cannot be the captain to steer the ship in that direction. So Mr Cameron, who was a staunch supporter of Britain remaining in the EU, has practically declared his resignation from his position as prime minister, thereby marking the beginning of the end to his political career. But Mr Cameron’s departure does not mark the last in the Britain EU divorce; we are now seeing the fallout from the disastrous decision on all levels. Global money markets, trade, business and industry all fear they will be paying a toll for the aftermath of this divorce.
A comment by former British Prime Minister Tony Blair made me stop to think. Mr Blair said that the Leave vote was more a protest than a destiny determination vote. He was indicating that the majority who voted to leave the EU were expressing frustration, anxiety, and protest at the influx of immigrants allowed into the EU. This influx led to decisions imposed on EU member States for each to accept a specific quota of immigrants, placing thus near non-sustainable burdens on these States regarding the integration of the immigrants, their housing, and their incorporation in the labour markets. To say nothing of the fear that these immigrants might include extremists and terrorists who would work to spread violent terrorism in their host countries.
We ought to admit that referendums, even as they serve as democratic tools to gauge the will of the people, are in fact double-edged swords when they put before the public multi-faceted issues that are too complex to be judged by non-experts. In such cases, the result is more often than not that the public tends to endorse stances that express simplistic, emotional, protest-oriented decisions the dire long-term fallout of which is beyond public awareness. In case of Brexit the vote was described by many analysts as “Britain shooting itself in the foot”. Why? Because the British economy, the Pound Sterling, and London’s position as a global financial centre have all suffered on account of the Leave vote. Huge sums of money, countless businesses, and tens of thousands of jobs have already moved out of Britain. Predictably, global money markets have in turn suffered.
As though this were not enough, the disastrous referendum brought to the surface the internal divisions that threaten the UK. Whereas Britain voted to leave the EU, Scotland and Ireland wish to stay. Now Scottish and Irish voices calling for independence or even breaking away from the UK altogether have gained new heights. Such voices had always been there but were never strong enough, as revealed by the referendum two years ago in which Scotland voted by a healthy majority to stay in the UK. Now, however, many in Scotland and Ireland are furious with the Brexit vote which they insist does not express their will and goes against their national interests.
Analysis of the recent referendum results show that the majority of those who voted Leave belonged to the older age group; the younger British wished to stay in the EU. This in itself led to angry protest by the young against what they saw as an emotional, ill-calculated decision by their elders, the bitter fruit of which they—the young—would have to reap.
The disastrous referendum impacted the EU internally, since the Leave vote gave courage to other States that harbour strong voices calling to exit the EU, thus giving power to those who would rather see the EU unravel. Such would be a horrifying change for all who realise the political and economic weight of the EU in the global order. To say nothing of the significance of the EU as a post-WWII model that united so many peoples into one entity while at the same time respecting their various national identities, languages, cultures, and history. I must admit this has paradoxically contradicted with attempts in our part of the world to achieve Arab unity despite the fact that Arabs, unlike Europeans, boast a common language.
Can there be any way out to escape the results of the disastrous referendum? The great difficulty to achieve divorce, the full disengagement, between Britain and the UK has led to prospects of the British Parliament overriding the Leave vote. The near future should reveal if such a prospect would bring back Britain to the EU fold, or would confirm the divorce and lead to a new European order.
10 July 2016