On June 23, the U.K. held a referendum on whether or not the country would remain a member of the European Union. The next day it was announced that citizens had decided, by a very narrow margin, to leave. Termed the Brexit – or British Exit – the idea of the U.K. leaving the E.U. was not entirely unheard of. The U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) has been talking about divorcing the E.U. as far back as at least 2013, when the party and its leader Nigel Farage began to gain popularity as a counter-establishment party. As tensions, especially those regarding immigration, have begun to rise in recent years UKIP has gained massive amounts of popularity among local populations, leading them to ever more power within the British government. The party is right up with the trend of the rising right wing in Europe and the U.S., with Farage having stated that he supports both Donald Trump and Marine Le Pen in their respective electoral quests. Although it may be concerning for some, the issue with the Brexit is not quite as simple as worrying about the far right being in power. The most pressing issue that faces the U.K., Europe and the world as Britain begins her separation is one of peace and security.
One of the long-feared effects of a Brexit was a dip in economic and financial security. With many countries and individuals just reaching stability after the 2008 economic crisis, the exodus of one of the world’s largest economic centers from an international body like the E.U. caused worry among even the most armchair of economists. This fear seems valid; on the same day that the referendum results were announced, the pound dropped to a staggering $1.33 USD from $1.50 the day before. While economic effects may be seen and felt immediately, there are certainly going to be aftershocks of this decision for a long time to come.
Due to the very nature of the European Union, the Brexit will have reprecussions outside of the economic realm. Member states and citizens of the E.U. enjoy some of the best benefits of any international organization, including free trade, and open borders and residency in any of the 28 member states. Open residency has been a great boon for member states of the E.U., allowing workers to travel where there may be more job openings in their field, students to study in new locales, and even allowing people to just move on a whim. With such ease of access, many have moved from their native countries to the U.K. just as U.K. natives have moved throughout the E.U. themselves. By electing to divorce themselves from the European Union, the U.K. has opted, whether they realize it or not, for much harsher immigration regulations both for those who wish to enter the U.K. and for those who wish to migrate away. In fact, the U.K. may very well have just created the exact situation they were hoping to avoid – large amounts of illegal and undocumented migrants within their borders. Unless they can work out a very generous deal with the remaining E.U. member states, the U.K. may have to deport thousands of European citizens from their country, as well as see thousands of their own citizens forced to return as well.
Not only would such a vast exchange of labour and skill cause economic damages, but it would also hurt relations, both personal and political, between the countries involved in the exchange of residents. For example, if the U.K. is forced to deport 20,000 Portuguese citizens, and 15,000 U.K. citizens are required to move from Portugal back to the U.K., not only will their lives be uprooted and shaken about, but they may also feel a great animosity towards either of the governmental authorities involved. Animosity is not something that Europe requires more of at this time.
Europe is already facing great outside threat by members of terrorist groups such as ISIS, as demonstrated by the November 2015 attacks on Paris. In order for Europe to best confront this threat, it is necessary for governments to be united and strong in the face of their attackers. With the U.K. now stating their intention to leave the E.U., they are opening themselves and the rest of Europe to more attacks. The U.K. has the second largest military in Europe and arguably the most name recognition, causing them to act as a sort of protectorate over the other states. Even if the British military is not what it was at its heyday, it remains apparent that one does not want to cross them, and helps deter those who would wish to wreak havoc amongst the European countries. A now Britain-less Europe will have to face any potential future attacks on its own, and perhaps in an even weaker state if other countries follow in the wake of the U.K.
The U.K. has long been a believer in their own power, independence and separation from the rest of Europe, both physically and mentally. The Brexit, however, is taking all of these historical traits to another level. As can be seen already in exchange rates, the market may be on the verge of another economic freefall as people all over the world hold their breath to see how the global economic superpower will handle the situation. European citizens in the U.K., as well as U.K. citizens on the continent are stuck in limbo, waiting to see if their lives will be uprooted. Even more so, young adults and future generations are being stripped of future experiences, as without the E.U. they will no longer have the opportunity to work, study or reside in 27 other countries. In the most direct, and one of the most undiscussed, effects on peace, the remains of the E.U. are now more open than ever to the threat of terrorist attacks. Without a united front, Europe will be open to threats previously unknown, both domestically in the form of right wing victories, and in foreign affairs, with worries about both terrorist groups and foreign governments.
Gwendolyn Bell is a recent graduate from the Ohio State University with a degree in International Studies (Western European Studies) and French. She is passionate about the study of culture and cultural interactions, and believes that by sharing and discussing cultural practices the world can become a more understanding, peaceful place. During her time at OSU she was a member of the International Affairs Scholars, Collegiate Council on World Affairs, aided research within the Political Science Department and worked with the Columbus Literacy Council. She has studied in both Bolivia and France, which only fueled the fire of her passion for international affairs. Gwendolyn hopes to put these skills and passions to use in the future by working with UNESCO.