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Britain’s Independence Day?

June 24, 2016
A Union Jack flag flutters next to European Union flags ahead of a visit from Britain's PM Cameron at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels

A Union Jack flag flutters next to European Union flags at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels.

Yesterday David Cameron held the EU referendum that he had promised during the 2015 Parliamentary election. All UK citizens of voting age were asked to vote on whether the UK should leave or stay within the European Union. At the end of the day, leave won 52% to 48%. It is notable that though England voted strongly for Brexit (53.4% to 46.6%), Scotland and Ireland both strongly backed remaining, and now Scotland is poised to hold a referendum vote of their own, advocating an exit from the UK and the ability to negotiate with the EU on their own terms. The world’s reaction to this vote has characterized by shock and panic, mirrored in the strained faces of stock market traders and David Cameron in front of Downing Street close to tears. Immediately after the vote the pound plunged to levels not seen since 1985, and Wall Street began today with some of the lowest averages seen in months. The aftershocks of the UK’s decisions are still reverberating, but here’s a couple things we can take away amidst the chaos.

In order for the UK to leave the EU is has to invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the amended treaty that makes up the constitutional basis of the EU. Invoking article 50 is a formal legal process, and gives the UK two years to negotiate the terms of its withdrawal. The article has been in force since late 2009, but because no country has yet withdrawn from the EU, the specifics haven’t been tested yet. It will be up to David Cameron or his successor or start that process, and nothing is official until they do. The president of the European parliament, Martin Schulz, has said that he wants the UK to leave as soon as possible. As far as how things might look after Britain formerly leaves, a lot rides upon how the UK’s participation in the EU’s ‘single market’ will be negotiated. The EU’s single market operates as if the EU were one country, allowing the free movement of goods, services, money and people. Should the UK be outside of that market, a lot of that flexibility will be lost, and such economic barriers as tariffs may be put in place that could damage the UK’s highly globalized businesses. However, regardless of the single market decision, the EU will remain an essential component of the UK’s trading network, and the UK has now lost an important seat at a negotiating table that holds substantial power over its economic future.

Could the UK’s decision to leave the EU spark other referendum votes throughout the European continent? Far-right national parties have been on the rise in Europe, and such leaders as Marine Le Pen, the head of the far-right Front National Party in France have responded to the UK’s vote with, “Now we need to have the same referendum in France and in the countries of the EU.” Geert Wilders, the head of the Dutch Freedom Party, echoed this sentiment with the statement, “Now it is our turn. Time for a Dutch Referendum!” With the rise of these calls for referendums comes the question, was this more about Britain than the EU? Was this decision based on fear that due to such factors as the large influx of immigrants the ‘essence’ of Britain is being lost? Might similar referendums in other countries be based on the same brand of fear? Amidst these questions one things remains clear: Europe’s current problems aren’t going anywhere, and the UK won’t be able to shut them out even with a stronger political barrier.

For an additional perspective on what’s at stake in Britain’s decision, please follow this link to a statement by the Director of the Institute for European Studies, IU Professor of Political Science Timothy Hellwig.

 

 

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