Tumultuous times have engulfed Europe. The European Union, a product of over seventy years in the making, appears to be threatened by internal rebellion. Last week, the European Union member-state Great Britain announced that it would be leaving the European Union, the first member-state to do so in the EU’s history. A referendum in Britain concluded Thursday night with approximately 52% of voters in favor of “Brexit” – a play on “British Exit” from the EU – with the remaining 48% of voters voting against it. The results of the referendum were long unknown leading well into the night that Thursday, with the majority of exit polls predicting the “Remain” vote to be victorious. However, the nation, and indeed, the whole world was shocked Friday morning to learn that “Remain” had succumbed to “Leave”, and that Brexit had become a reality.
At this time, it pointless to determine what former Prime Minister Cameron and his cabinet had done incorrectly to allow for such a situation to arise; it is too early for historians to study the historical implications of Brexit. What is worth noting, however, are the forces which influenced Brexit, and where Europe stands both today and tomorrow as a result of it. It would be foolish to fail to comment on the enormous surge in popularity of right-wing populism within the last several years, not just in Great Britain, but the European Union in general. While Brexiters such as Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson argued in favor of protecting British national and political sovereignty (which are detailed in Jessica Chrisman’s article), anti-immigration sentiments also played a significant role in the Brexit propaganda campaign leading up to the referendum. All throughout Europe today right-wing populists such as Brit Nigel Farage, Frenchwoman Marine Le Pen, Dutchman Gert Wilders, Pole Jaroslaw Kaczynski, Hungarian Viktor Orban, or Czech Milos Zeman manipulate their constituents growing fear of foreigners – especially with the recent Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 and 2016, which overwhelmed EU institutions and humanitarian efforts – to advance their own political agendas. They argue that the European Union is unable to maintain peace, stability, and security within its own borders, and that it is contributing to the demise of Western Civilization. Instead of surrendering and centralizing institutional capabilities to the European Union, these so-called “Eurosceptics” would rather maintain their abilities to govern within their borders unhindered by EU legislation.
One does not have to go far amongst the Eurosceptics to find those who see a growing centralized EU power only as an extension of German political power. Particularly eastern and southern EU member-states view the European Union as an extension and projection of German power in a post-WWII Europe. The Greek Crisis of 2014-2015, led first and foremost by Chancellor Angela Merkel and her German diplomatic leadership, was viewed by many Eurosceptics as a projection of German political dominance within the European Union, preventing a Greek exit while enacting strict oversight of domestic Greek economic policies. Not only have both put the European community at odds with one another, but both have allowed the European Union’s greatest military threat to manipulate the European political scene in his favor: Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Both the Greek Crisis and Brexit have played into the hands of Putin. Leading a proxy war in eastern Ukraine, Putin requires that the European Union be divided and unable to put forth a united opposition, and weak enough so as to be unable to put forth a formidable one to his own imperialistic endeavors. Both the Greek Crisis and Brexit have riled up Eurosceptics and pinned more than one member-state against another, often the southern and eastern against the western. Additionally, it also worth noting that the events following the announcement of Britain’s exit from the EU have failed to hinder further political damage within the EU, and only exacerbated Putin’s gains. The weekend following the Brexit announcement, a ministerial meeting was assembled by the French and Germans to discuss the future fate of a 27 member-state EU minus Great Britain. Surprisingly, only western EU member-states were invited, including France, Italy, Germany, and the BeNeLux. The remaining twenty or so member-states of the EU did not receive invitations to join in on the discussion. Shocked and playing into the stereotype that Germany dominated the EU, a counter-conference was called for Monday by the Poles, and included all the member-states of the Visegrad Group, as well as the Spanish and Austrians. It is rather unimportant who said what during these meetings. What matters, however, is that the very first response of the European community to Brexit was a divided and ruptured response. Not only does that play into Putin’s narrative of a divided, weak, and incompetent European Union, it also does not bode well for the EU’s narrative of unity, integrity, and solidarity. Oddly enough, however, it may prove beneficial for the European Union and European unity to allow Britain to exit.
That is quite the bold claim considering up until this point, the author of this essay has been pointing out the European Union’s weaknesses which allowed for the Brexit situation to come about in the first place. There is a saying, however, that one’s misfortune can be a blessing in disguise. Let us assume that the remaining 27 member-states of the European Union apply themselves whole-heartedly and consolidate their efforts to implement a coherent and steadfast reform to the institutional superstructure, which would address the EU’s shortcomings and concerns that allowed for the Brexit situation to come about in the first place. This is, hopefully, a far more realistic outcome than an en masse divorce of subsequent member-states. Assuming that the abovementioned premise of a unified European response to the Brexit crisis is true, the EU, more or less, will be able to determine the repercussions of a member-state leaving its ranks. In other words, the EU will finally have a case-study to revert to and dissuade future member-states from leaving. Assuming the premise that Britain will be politically and economically worse off outside the EU than within, the EU will be able to point to the British case-study for future events.
There is an evident weakness to the abovementioned scenario. One may refute it by highlighting that it rests on the premise that member-states will be worse off outside of the EU instead of being a part of it. One can state that we cannot be certain that Britain will fare worse off, and that Britain’s political and economic resurgence is just as viable and plausible an outcome as its demise. The author of this essay must concede that this is absolutely true. However, like any good historian who must come to a conclusion where there is a lack of information, one must utilize available evidence to infer the most probable conclusion. Therefore, the author of this essay would argue that it is necessary to determine what is being done to assuage the negative economic and political consequences of Brexit within Britain. By doing so, a more extensive description of the situation is produced with greater evidence available for analyzing Britain’s post-Brexit reaction.
Within hours of the Brexit announcement, the British and global markets had spiraled into chaos. The Financial Times, Bloomberg, and the London-based The Times informed that within one day after the referendum, over $2 trillion in equities had evaporated. The British pound noted the largest single day drop against the dollar, from $1.50 to $1.37 by early Friday morning, dropping as low as $1.30, and rebounding to $1.34 at the time of writing this essay. The value of British banks dropped a fifth Friday morning, slightly regaining yet still maintaining a 10% deficit at the time of writing this essay. Additionally, Standard & Poor’s downgraded Britain’s rating from Triple-A to Double-A, while economists predicted lower economic growth for 2016 not exceeding 1.0% of GDP, and an economic recession for 2017 and 2018. Overall, approximately $3 trillion of losses worldwide can be attributed to the Brexit announcement. The exact financial and economic losses are not readily available due to the recent and simultaneously vast nature of the event, however, economists agree that the economic instabilities remain despite relatively minor rebounds in the fifth day in post-referendum British markets.
The turmoil created by the Brexit announcement did not leave the British political scene unscathed. Following the Brexit referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation, directly linking it to the Brexit referendum’s outcome, implying an end to the Conservative Party’s leadership. The opposition Labour Party, likewise, was not spared turmoil when leader Jeremy Corbyn had dismissed members of the Labour shadow government for supposedly colluding a coup against him. In subsequent days, at least 22 out of the remaining 30 ministers within the shadow government resigned from their positions. Internal battles for power followed en suite in both political camps, complicating the search for decisive leadership. As a result, neither the Conservatives nor Labour could put forth a candidate to lead Britain during this chaotic and tumultuous time. The void in the political vacuum has allowed for controversial individuals such as Nigel Farage or Boris Johnson to step in and exacerbate the political instabilities of British politics. Anti-immigrant sentiments and attacks increased following the Brexit referendum, particularly against Eastern Europeans. And perhaps, in a twisted fate of irony, MP Brexiters such as Daniel Hannan conceded post-referendum that much of the migratory regulations constricting immigrant flows as promised by the Brexiter camp would be unattainable, exacerbating accusations of deceitful promises utilized to garnish support for Brexit. As a result, there has been a growing call since Friday for a second referendum to veto the legality of the Brexit referendum. The unfortunate matter of the fact is that the Brexit camp has been primarily unproductive in preparing for nor relieving the negative consequences brought about by Brexit. The chaos and the lack of organization within Brexit politics is inductive of economic instability and turmoil. In other words, there are little to virtually no arguments available for Brexiters to imply that Britain will be better off outside the EU. Instead of hitting the ground with boots running, the Brexit camp has squandered viable time and resources only to prove that it had been dishonest with its voters.
With far-reaching cries from within all strata of British society for a second referendum – particularly among British citizens in Scotland and Northern Ireland, as well as the London metropole – the EU is in a more comfortable position than it is made to seem. As long as right-wing populism is curbed and unity within the EU is maintained, the EU will weather this storm, as it has man in the past. The EU, however, must overcome its own complexes and truly begin acting as a unified bloc, with each member-state resisting the temptations and manipulations of outside forces. As for the British, it appears that they have only realized now the true value of the EU after having lost it. The large surge of British voters demanding a second referendum, as well as calls for Scottish independence and Irish reunification as members of the European Union, have for the first time in many years and crises made, quite ironically, the European Union desirable; in the process of a member-state leaving the European Union, the European Union has become much more desirable for that member-state. It is now the European Union’s turn and duty to solidify this into axiom. In other words, if one’s to prevent future rebellions, one must prove to those who rebel that their actions are disadvantageous to their own interests.
Brexit is in the European Union’s interest.
Adam Staszczuk is the author of “Reflections on Brexit: Why Brexit is in the EU’s Interest”. He is a history graduate student at Villanova University, concentrating in European history with specific interests in Modern Central Europe, particularly Poland. He can be contacted via email at email@example.com