The ‘Brexiters’ won their Leave vote, casting the United Kingdom into uncertainty and jolting worldwide markets. The Pound Sterling hit a thirty-year low, and in the aftermath, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his forthcoming resignation. How exactly the desire of the 51.9 percent majority of voters will play out in the months to come is unknown, as it must be channeled through the policy process, but most political and economic pundits have already assessed the move to be a wrong turn and backward-thinking in this era of globalization.
Immigration issues were on the minds of many of the working class voters who feared being displaced by migrants. Britain’s anti-immigration sentiment mirrors that of many American voters during this turbulent election year. Globalization and technological changes have challenged millions of jobs and depressed wages while Islamic terrorism remains in the headlines with the recent Orlando attack, the bloodiest mass shooting in modern American history.
Sovereignty over their borders is a very emotional issue for some Brits, who have seen Eastern Europeans come to the U.K. eager for work and view Muslim immigration as a cultural challenge. They voted Leave to ensure their job opportunities and way of life remain intact, but the result was instead a swift economic drop that may turn into a prolonged recession.
It is highly likely that Scotland will call for a second referendum on independence in the wake of the U.K. vote to leave the E.U., and Northern Ireland’s attachment to London will also be put at risk, as it too wanted to stay a member of the European Union.
The E.U. was built on the ideal that while member states would be initially independent, gradual integration would mean its citizens would increasingly come to think of themselves as sharing one common identity—Europeans. All went well during the economic boom of the 90s and early 2000s, but global financial turmoil in 2008 and last year’s refugee crisis has strained the relationship and bolstered national sovereignty movements in member states. The negotiators in Brussels became helpless power brokers who failed to provide any real solutions to the severe challenges facing the continent.
The E.U. has never been united in real terms, and this will now be a much harder goal to achieve. Britain’s exit further complicates the E.U. project, and will inspire the independence movements in other states. Those in Brussels must now be sorrowfully glad at Britain’s immediate economic slump, as it serves to be warning to the Euroskeptics.
The referendum in Britain underscores the reality for nation states: there is no easy fix for the growing pains of globalization. Closing borders does not create jobs. But it must also serve as a lesson for politicians: a dissatisfied majority will demand change, even against its own interests. Leaders must be in touch with the people if they hope to better the world.
— Probir Kumar Sarkar
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