Well that was an interesting night!
To be honest, when the votes started coming in for Remain, I got a bit depressed. As the night went on, the Leave campaign took the lead and never let go. However, the results are in no way resounding or imply a mandate because it was so close (52 to 48 per cent). The way I always look at elections is the percentage of people it actually represents. In this case, only 27 per cent (or roughly 1 out of 4) of the entire population (65.1m) of the UK voted to leave (17.4m voters) – not very impressive is it?
Yet it is clear Britons are a divided bunch when it comes to this issue, which is historically important to make note of. Historically, the UK has been at odds with Europe; for example, emphasising individual rights over group rights. Over the past 20 years, though, there has been a change towards the outlook of Europe and the Europeaness of Briton. I have no doubt this is a result of the entire EU project, yet only a zealot Europhile would overlook the major problems: immigration, security, sovereignty, nationalism, economics.
On immigration, the Schengen (or Shenanigan) zone and the principle of ‘free movement’ has made it easy for millions to move around unfettered by border controls. The massive influx of refugees (most of whom would be defined as economic migrants under international law – not that Angela Merkel cares) from the Middle East and Asia has thrown a real spanner in the works. No one can seriously say such an influx of foreigners (an especially accurate word here) will not have some problems going forward, especially for a continent with a notoriously poor record of integrating foreign people. This has also led to issues with security, with the German government in February admitting it lost 130’000 migrants, as the attacks in France and Brussels illustrate.
Sovereignty and nationalism are two things which have been undermined by the European Union. After two World Wars, people in Europe might not think this is such a bad issue. Yet as I have said before: Britons are British, Germans are German, the French are French. Despite its efforts, people will still consider themselves by their nation first and, if at all, European second; I for one miss the idea of strong national identities – diversity is good. The increasing loss of national sovereignty to Brussels (and unaccountable bureaucrats) has helped the rise of nationalist parties throughout the continent. Worse, when national politicians dismiss them as nothing more than xenophobic bigots, it only makes the problem worse.
“I for one miss strong national identities – diversity is good.”
Finally, economics. The EU is the second largest economy in the world. Yet its economic growth has been anemic and unemployment (especially for the youth) is shocking. Certainly, the lowering of trade barriers has led to much of Europes sucess in becoming a large economy, but it in no way is something to be envied. Worse still is the tactics deployed against non-EU members; namely, high terrifs and endless paperwork which make it costly to do business there. This is not a case for belonging to the club though because it leds to price distortions and inequalities in the global market. If the EU was a true free trade zone with the rest of the world then the economy would be far outpacing what is on show at the moment.
Serious reforms need to be made within the EU, but I do not believe they are capable of doing it or have the will to try (mostly because they do not see anything wrong with an army of bureaucrats) since the ends (a supranational state) justify the means (ignoring voters). Maybe they will be proven right, but history suggests such projects do not lead to success, especially in the absence of legitimate institutions.
As for the UK, I have no doubt it would make it on its own outside of the EU. This is not to say it has no interest in trading with the EU (everyone does), but it certainly is tired of the EU as a political institution. The costs of trade will likely be higher but manageable, and with the independence to go out and make deals with the rest of the world, easily overcome. I for one am not worried by the uncertainty going forward. There will be hardships to be sure, but the British (and Europeans) have overcome far greater challenges before (many of which still are facing us).
Like they say, “Only time will tell.”