June 29, 2016 6:03 pm | Updated 1 year ago.
Brexit: A victory Or a Loss for Xenophobia
1945 was a pivotal moment for the world. Europe, in particular, had been the epicenter of major unrest for the past three decades that culminated in the deadliest military conflict in modern human history. The Second World War claimed a total of 60 million lives, which was about 3 percent of the world population in 1945. While military casualties added up to 38 percent (axis and allied powers), the majority of the brunt was borne by civilians where casualties were 58 percent. Needless to say, Europe was seeking long-term stability with great immediacy.
After the war, European integration was widely viewed as an antidote to extreme nationalism, which had ravaged the continent. At the Hague Congress in 1948, with 750 delegates participating from around Europe as well as observers from Canada and the United States, a decisive step was taken with the establishment of the European Movement International and the College of Europe, where Europe’s future leaders would live and study together.
In 1950, French foreign minister Robert Schuman laid out a proposal, known as the Schuman Declaration, designed to create common interests between European countries, which would lead to gradual political integration.
“Europe will not be made all at once, or according to a single plan. It will be built through concrete achievements, which first create a de facto solidarity. The coming together of the nations of Europe requires the elimination of the age-old opposition of France and Germany,” Schuman wrote.
Within a year of the Schuman Declaration, on April 18, 1951, six founding members (France, West Germany, Italy, Luxemburg, Belgium and Netherlands) signed the Treaty of Paris creating Europe’s first supranational community – the European Coal and Steel Community.
Shortly thereafter, in 1958, the founding nations signed the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Economic Community (EEC) and the European Atomic Energy Community (EAEC), effectively paving the way for the European Union (EU).
The EU currently consists of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe. It has developed an internal single market through a standardized system of laws that apply in all member states with policies that aim to ensure free movement of people, goods, services and capital within the internal market. The EU also enacts legislation in justice and home affairs, maintains common policies on trade and regional development. A monetary union was established in 1999 that came into full force in 2002 and is composed of 19 EU member states, which use the Eurocurrency.
This was the mammoth diplomatic effort that was supposed to bring Europe together in a shared sense of community, prosperity, collective development of member states and ensure harmonious existence.
But on June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom, a prominent member of the EU, held a public referendum about the country’s future in the Union. The public was to vote on whether the U.K should remain or leave the EU. Commonly termed as Brexit (British exit from the EU), the referendum was a campaign promise made by Prime Minister David Cameron during the general election of 2015 to appease the radical elements in his party and also to cash in on the growing public resentment regarding the EU. The Conservative Party came to power with a majority and Cameron was forced to come through on his very public promise.
After months of contentious debates and intense campaigning by both sides, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. It was a historic turnout with more than 30 million people (71 percent) voting – the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election. Leave camp won 52 to 48 percent.
The result was an internationally shocking statement by the United Kingdom that sent global markets in a tailspin with the pound hitting a 33-year-low overnight. Prime Minister Cameron, who campaigned for staying in the EU, gave a public statement announcing the results and his resignation.
While every trading partner of the EU from United States to India strongly urged the U.K to stay in the Union, an astounding single point agenda deviated public opinion towards the leave camp.
The vocal faces of Brexit campaign were Nigel Farage, leader of UK Independence Party (UKIP), and Boris Johnson of the Conservative Party. The leave camp made several claims regarding U.K’s involvement with the EU but the most influential tool used was xenophobia. Farage and Johnson relentlessly rallied against the EU’s integral policy of free movement of people between members states. The slogan for the leave campaign, “Let’s take back control,” bore an eerie similarity to Donald Trump’s campaign slogan for the 2016 presidential election.
Demanding greater control over national borders, Farage and Johnson primarily riled up older voters who seem to upset over immigration issues. Younger voters overwhelmingly voted to remain in the Union.
Perhaps the most significant example of anti-immigrant vitriol was seen after President Obama visit to Britain where he urged voters to remain in the E.U. Johnson subsequently penned a column in The Sun criticizing President Obama’s comments suggesting that the President’s attitude to Britain might be based on his “part-Kenyan” heritage and “ancestral dislike of the British empire.”
The divisive brexit issue was edging towards violence that manifested in the tragic murder of Labor MP Jo Cox by a 52-year-old leave supporter reportedly shouting ‘Britain first.’
Such were the motivations behind the leave camp that claimed leaving the EU would divert £350 million to National Health Services (NHS) – a claim boldly painted on the campaign bus. After winning the referendum, Farage called the campaign promise “a mistake.”
To be fair, the ‘Britain stronger in Europe’ camp did precious little to sway public opinion. With donations amounting to £6.88 million, compared to £2.78 million of ‘Vote Leave,’ and several high profile endorsements, Cameron could not coalesce the campaign together as divisions between him and Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn became increasingly fraught.
A day after the referendum, the news was filled with devastating market response and growing remorse among those who voted to leave. Google search trends show ‘What is the EU?’ and ‘What does it mean to leave the EU?’ began trending heavily in Britain the next day.
According to the National Police Chiefs’ Council, reports of hate crime have risen 57 per cent in the aftermath of the EU referendum vote. There were 85 reports of hate crimes to True Vision, a police-funded reporting website, within three days after the vote.
The socioeconomic effect of brexit on the United Kingdom and Europe remains uncertain at this point, but the perilous future for millions of immigrants in the U.K and British citizens living in other EU countries is only just beginning.
As the United States heads towards electing its future leader in a few months, the brexit result is a reminder that populist rhetoric cannot be taken lightly and there are no do overs in a democratic system once the die is cast.
Author: Srijan Sen