Over one night, Britain had shocked the world by deciding to leave the European Union it had joined in 1973. Unity and peace were the spirits that were tied within the formation of the European Union, which eventually allows for the free movement of goods, capital, services and people between member states. Recently, on the 23rd of June 2016, Britain decided to end it.
From the polling results, 52% had voted for Brexit and 48% voted to remain where the turnout of voters was 72%. The morning after the result was announced, David Cameron dramatically resigned as Prime Minister. Now, the First Minister of Scotland, Nicole Sturgeon, is taking immediate measures where she is now preparing for a second referendum to exit the United Kingdom as Scotland voted to remain in the EU. Brexit had shaped and is currently shaping the political landscape of not only the UK, but also Europe and the rest of the world. Above all, does this suggest the beginning of the end of Europe?
A divided nation
The United Kingdom today looks like a very divided nation more than ever as the baby boomers steered the votes to a decision that the younger generations have to live with the next decades. 75% of the group age of 18-24 year olds voted to leave while only 39% of over 65s age voted to remain. This had created polarity between the aspiration of the youngs and the nostalgic legacy of the olds. To add to this, the income gap between the Leave and Remain voters were significant as most Leave voters are unemployed. The referendum had opened doors for the hard-right nationalists to spark hatred and create division among communities in the British societies. Sadly, hatred phrases such as “go back to your own country” are among the popular phrases lingering around the “Leave” campaign. If one looks at the demography and the statistics of regions that voted to remain and leave are outrageous. Brexit had reopened the debate and possibility for another Scotland referendum whether there is a need to stay in the UK since much of the Scottish people had voted to remain in the EU. Similar fate for Northern Ireland where the Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, Martin McGuinness might call for a referendum on reunification with Ireland. It seems that different parts of the UK has started to consider taking their own path by breaking away from the UK and the domestic politics is another story to tell.
Brexit was about fear
Sentiments of fear revolved around Brexit. Part of the nation resent to the fact that the UK has to send away billions of money to Brussels every year suggesting that UK needs to regain its own sovereignty. One of the most appalling fears is the fear of immigration. It has become the main focus of Brexit as immigration would mean a threat to their money, safety and national security. Anti-EU campaign had been advocating that migrants are a burden to the UK’s public finance as some of them are entitled to free healthcare, education and other welfare benefits. However, one cannot ignore the fact that well-integrated immigrants had contributed to UK’s economy.
Besides that, according to Nigel Farage, the leader of the far-right wing party, UKIP, staying in the EU would mean more immigrants and this would mean more assaults on British women, which is absurd of a claim. Hate crimes towards immigrants and Muslims are rising despite Muslims have little to do with EU. Fear of Muslims are rising as for them, there is a risk of staying in the EU where if Turkey joins EU in the future, the free movement of labour, people, and capital would open doors for more Muslims enter. Hence, it seems like a chance to get out and close the doors before the Muslims get in. Turkey’s EU accession process was used as an alibi to instill fear among voters and it seems to suggest that Brexit is a manifestation of fear of immigrants.
Downfall of Europe
Does Brexit indicates the advent of the downfall of Europe? As UK decided to leave the EU, there seems to be a panic attack towards the European financial market where Europe stocks see the worst drop since 1987. The Germany’s DAX index and Britain’s FTSE 100 have plummeted by 9.98 per cent and 10 per cent respectively. UK is predicted to go into recession in the future and the country’s triple A rating would be downgraded if it leaves the EU.
The West seems to have lost one of its guardians of global order. EU is going to be fragmented as after Brexit, other countries are looking at the prospects to exit the EU as well. This includes rumors such as the Netherlands and France that gave birth to the terms “Frexit” and “Nexit”. The leader of France’s right-wing National Front party called “Brexit” a victory and Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch, anti-immigrant Party for Freedom, mentioned about “Nexit”.
The balance of power is now down between two former war enemies – Germany and France. They have to share the “burden” and responsibility of managing and leading EU as a regional power. With UK out of the picture, there is an absence third power to negotiate and mediate the two. Due to the cold relationship with the EU, UK will need to look elsewhere for a stronger ally. Perhaps UK will try to align its interest more closely with the US or with Asia should the opportunity arises. UK will need a new PM to negotiate UK’s terms with the EU given the fractured relationship. It will be a fragile and vulnerable years for UK’s domestic and international politics.
Are the rising powers winning?
Rising powers seems to be benefitting politically from the UK ‘losing’ its international or political importance and relevance. The world that we live in is no longer bipolar that divides the West and the Rest but is a rising multi-polar world. Crack in the building block of Europe seems like good news for nations like Russia and China. They are catching up but not yet established. Despite China is sharing trade with the EU worth $587 billion last year, they are said to be prepared in terms of its financial liquidity. Brexit seems to be proving China’s point of the consequent of a dysfunction democracy. With uncertainties awaits the future of the UK, Russia seem to be benefitting from a weaker EU. NATO summit will be kicking off in Warsaw soon that aims to refocus strategies on the threat posed by Russia but Brexit is not helpful in any way to a stronger EU.
Yet certainly if the EU sneeze, the rest of the world catches the cold. This is evident to China with its close relation to the UK and EU. Value of Chinese investments will be affected if the UK loss access to EU market as many Chinese companies have direct investments in the UK. Politically, Russia and China might be winning but there will definitely be economic consequences towards China as UK exits the EU.
Who will step up to take the global hegemony? The US and the EU is getting more fragmented and weaker with their over-selling liberal ideologies, UK is an island more isolated than ever. Russia and China are still catching up and the Muslim world is still paving its way. Another reflective question is to be directed to us. Are we up for the game?
Fatin Nadhirah Binti Jamalolail
Master in International Political Economy at Warwick university. She aspires to be an economist, political analyst specialising in the asian region particularly in the study of development economics.