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Brexit and beyond


June 26, 2016

As Nigel Farage celebrated Brexit by declaring the independence of Britain, there was relative gloom in many capitals of the European Union – including London. The British have voted in favour of leaving the union.

One can safely see that the UK’s polity is highly divided on the issue of Brexit. The domino effect that is likely to follow Brexit may appear in the form of Nexit and Frexit (Netherlands and France) and eventually may dissolve the European Union for good.

What are the ramifications for the UK, EU and the larger West as well as the rest of the world? The post-World War II dispensation on both sides of the Atlantic had envisaged a dream of the United States of Europe with inbuilt capacity to grow out of the ashes of the Great War and thwart the spectre of another world war, making sure Europe would once again emerge as an economic powerhouse.

As the EU expanded eastward and engulfed the impoverished states of Eastern Europe, the capacity of the union to function as one entity became questionable. The free flow of people in a borderless environment created an artificial sense of European Nationhood, paving way for rise of the neo-Nazis and right-wing flag bearers. Lately, the strategic chaos generated by Western powers along the southern shores of the Mediterranean Sea as well as the Middle East led to a tsunami of refugees into mainland Europe. This gave fillip to neo-Nazis, who were already feeling squeezed in their homes due to a free flow of migrants.

Brexit is just the tip of the iceberg, it can be safely assumed that the expected domino effect would erode the delicate foundations of the EU and pave the way for it to dissolve earlier than predicted by Euro-sceptics.

Transatlantic, it could seriously affect the US presidential campaign as the rise of right-wing politics gains currency in the US as well, with its manifestation in the form of persona Donald Trump, who is likely to gain tremendously from the Brexit vote. Unfortunately, in the next decades or so, both sides of Atlantic may see right-wing political leaders occupying the major capitals in the Western world and pushing rest of the world to form a unified block of developing nations.

The financial implications of the Brexit vote cannot be predicted. The ‘Leave’ vote was considered by some to have been against multinational corporations and the artificial system imposed by Brussels. The British pound sterling has already depreciated substantially against the US dollar and this slide could trigger economic chaos in the long run. There have been projections that the UK could enter a period of long recession till the system stabilises by adjusting to new economic realities.

As far as the future of the European Union and euro-zone is concerned, the EU was on the verge to fall sooner or later, but Brexit has just ignited the powder keg earlier than what many media and economic pundits projected. The pound has fallen to a 35-year low and countries across the world are feeling the heat of Brexit right after this referendum with major markets going down fast. The European Union’s policy of imbalanced sharing of refugees has left many smaller nations in the union debating whether to stay in or not. Greece’s exit idea of independent nations in Europe was considered laughable by the Brussels’ head honchos; people never pictured a big wig to move away from the union.

Apart from economic issues, there are many other reasons why the European Union is beginning to fall. Nationalism is one of the major concerns in Europe today, and the union cannot afford far-right parties expanding their influence all over Europe. Brexit is just the beginning; the upcoming elections all across the union will pave way for more neo-Nazis to share power with liberal forces. This may completely ruin the state of affairs of the union. The likes of Pegida in Deutschland and Front National in France are already gaining ground in the bigger states of the union. Both parties have an extreme nationalist mindset and want an end to the EU.

The most unfortunate effect of Brexit could be the increasing polarisation between non-white immigrants and white Europeans. The recent election of a non-white Muslim mayor of London was detested by UKIP leadership and the English Defence League. Could Brexit become a harbinger of polarisation on grounds of race and religion and accentuate the fault lines even more?

Even for British residents in other European states, Brexit has created new tensions; Professor of Law Sionaidh Douglas-Scott at Queen Mary University of London describes the dilemma: “There is no cast-iron guarantee on acquired rights in the event Britain leaves the EU. If you leave the EU you are no longer a member of the club that gives you those rights.”

For the UK, Brexit has raised more questions than it has answered. Is Scexit (exit of Scotland) from the UK a possibility? How would border control work in the UK when its northern part has voted to stay in the union? Can Northern Ireland reunite with the Republic of Ireland, as both are strong proponents of staying in the union? Brexit could easily be a death warrant for the United Kingdom as well.

Legally, the Brexit could put British and European leaders into a long spiral of unwinding decisions on issues such as trade, business, free movement of people and security. No doubt David Cameron has announced his resignation – an intelligent move to avoid the leadership of this unwinding process which could take years if not decades. Although the Brexit vote is unbinding for the British parliament, morally, it has set the compass for a change of course. The UK is entering unchartered territory with new challenges and apparently fewer opportunities.

For the rest of the EU, Brussels is slowly losing power and all that may be left of the union could be Germany holding onto the hapless Euro. The current state of affairs of the union can be explained in one line: “one cannot build islands of prosperity in a sea of misery”.

Brexit is just the beginning. The powder keg is lit and the domino effect has been initiated. Is a new dawn of neo-Nazism approaching Europe?

The writers are freelance columnists based in Lahore.

Email: [email protected]