“Only the British could colonize half the world and then leave the EU because they don’t want immigrants.”
There will be much epigrammatic wisdom on the political knee-wobbler that is Brexit; the definitive verdict will have to wait.
For now, the world sees the momentous vote in one of two ways: either as a comeuppance for the greedy forces of globalization — a kind of un-globalization; or as stepping off a financial cliff for dubious reasons — jingoistic pride and Old England nostalgia. The Rudyard Kipling option.
In fact, that is the cover of next week’s New Yorker magazine: Brits in bowlers with briefcases voluntarily walking over the precipice like somnambulist. On this analysis, the “Leave” vote is seen as a victory for the British Trumps of the Far Right — the Nigel Farages of the UK’s suddenly chaotic political post-referendum landscape.
David Cameron and his government, gone; Britain’s senior EU official, Jonathon Hill, gone. Aflame with divorce anger, European leaders wanting the UK out of the marital home tout de suite. More than a million Europeans living in London potentially gone. The opposition Labour Party in chaos with half the shadow cabinet resigning after millions of voters rejected Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s injunction to stay in the EU. And the unthinkable prospect of a Donald Trump/Boris Johnson transatlantic political axis.
On the economic side, Moody’s lowered the UK’s “outlook” from stable to negative. Overnight, Britain slipped from the fifth-largest economy in the world to sixth, leap-frogged by France. The pound dropped like a stone. There are reports that Brexit wiped out $2-trillion in wealth, though it is far from certain whether those assets were made of anything more substantial than paper.
And then there is Scotland. Scots recently voted against independence largely because they were told that if they split with the UK, they would also be splitting with the EU. Now that Scotland has apparently lost the highly valued EU connection, there has been an immediate call for a second vote on independence. In fact, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is threatening to veto the Brexit vote, and directly lobby EU member states to allow Edinburgh to remain inside the pan-European trading bloc.
On the short term, there is rage in half the UK over the result of the referendum. There are already over three million signatures on a petition to hold a new vote, 77,000 of them bogus according to recent reports. But it only takes 100,000 names to advance the goal of the petition and it will likely be raised in Parliament this week.
My guess is that the Batmobile won’t run in reverse once the people have spoken; what’s done is done, and the consequences will inexorably unfold from this point forward.
However the cookie crumbles, there is now a new and undeniable fact of life: Brexit makes fundamental political realignment on the planet far more possible, if not inevitable.
The first victim of the Brexit vote could be the United Kingdom itself. If Scotland makes good on its threat to hold a new independence vote in order to remain in the EU, as most voters there wanted, the UK would be seriously splintered. Should Scotland take that route, there is no reason to think that Northern Ireland might not adopt the same approach. After all, with the exception of the Democratic Unionist Party, Northern Irish political parties, including Sinn Fein, strongly backed the Remain side of the referendum.
In fact, Northern Ireland and the Republic will be holding talks to see how best to navigate the choppy waters of the post-Brexit vote. That in itself is remarkable. The Republic has said in clear terms that Ireland’s future is with the EU, as it has been for the last 40 years. That’s also how most Northern Irish citizens feel.
So what does the new British leadership do? Will they restore a land border with the Republic? Will the UK be able to retain a free trade area with the EU in upcoming negotiations at the next EU summit, or will it be shown the door? If so, Ireland will be very unhappy and what’s more, the UK will no longer be a united United Kingdom. It is not beyond the realm of possibility that a 32-county Ireland aligned with the EU could eventually emerge from the rubble of the Brexit vote.
And then there is Gibraltar. Although the “Rock” has been a British territory since 1713, with 30,000 largely British citizens, Spain is now asking for “co-sovereignty” in the wake of the Brexit vote. The vote in Gibraltar was 84 per cent in favour of remaining with the EU — and for good reason. The territory depends on its shared EU border with Spain for much of its trade. Spain has always laid claim to Gibraltar, but never has the likelihood of the Spanish flag being hoisted on the Rock been greater.
From the perspective of Brussels, the changes could be even greater. It’s not just the loss of the UK. The whole European shooting match is now in play. What is to stop hard-right nationalists in places like France and the Netherlands from demanding a referendum of their own on their futures in the EU? There is already the same anti-immigrant sentiment in those countries waiting to be exploited by native populists cut from the same cloth as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove.
Both countries will be facing elections next year and it’s a safe bet that leaving the EU will be front and centre on the political agendas, pushed by National Front vice-president Florian Philippot in France, and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands. And they are not the only countries that might be thrown into chaos by the euroskeptics taking heart from the Brexit vote.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the political opposition in Sweden has been inspired by Britain bailing out of Europe. Opposition leader Mattias Karlsson told the WSJ the British vote was inspiring and that, “We will start campaigning for a Swexit.”
Likewise with Italy’s Northern League and its leader Matteo Salvini. He said that it’s time Italians had the chance to pass their own judgement on EU membership. Salvini, who is an unabashed Trump supporter, is known for his vitriolic attacks on migrants, and his praise for the “good works” of fascist Italian dictator, Benito Mussolini. Trump in turn has expressed his hope that the Northern League leader will be the next prime minister of Italy.
In all these countries, immigration and terrorism have driven a strong, anti-EU sentiment that has German Chancellor Angela Merkel worried about a domino affect in the wake of Brexit. With Finland and Denmark also anxious to reclaim national control over immigration and borders, she has reason to be concerned — including the fact that with the UK gone, Germany’s contribution to the EU may have to rise by as much as a stunning 3 billion Euros.
It remains to be seen if walling out your problems will be as much of a rage in the U.S. as it is getting to be in a jittery Europe. Donald Trump says America will be the next country to vote against the status quo.
Brexit or Regrexit, the world is changed. As the poet W.B. Yeats put in the last century, a terrible beauty is born.
Author: Michael Harris