EDITORIAL

Brexit reverberations

In the aftermath of Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU), questions are being asked amidst the upheaval in geopolitics and economic world order. It was a referendum which split Britain almost right down the middle, pitting regions against each other, elders versus youths, elites versus the underclass and leaving even the ruling Conservative party deeply divided. Despite the wafer thin vote margin between 51.9 percent for exiting against 48.1 percent for remaining in the EU, what comes through is widespread public angst that things are not going well for Britain. Political commentators have been near unimous about the widespread distrust of faraway and faceless EU administrators ruling from Brussels, about corruption and inefficiency that this system has failed to control. This anti-establishment sentiment now bursting through is attributed to fear of losing control over lives and socio-cultural identity among those struggling economically. Massive immigration has been stoking such fears; over 3.3 lakh immigrants this year already and 6.3 lakh immigrants have entered Britain thanks to its EU mandated ‘more open’ borders. The debt crisis in the EU since 2009, the earlier Eurozone instabilities with countries like Greece and Spain, the rising tide of immigration from war-torn Syria and Iraq, the IS brand of global terror — have all been factors contributing to the denouement in Britain now. In particular, opening borders to immigration has been a major faultline in EU with Germany largely on one side and countries like Austria and Italy equally opposed, with Britain muttering angrily on the sidelines as well. All this gave the UK Independence Party a strongly emotive issue to rally the British public for a ‘Leave EU’ vote, or else ‘Britain will cease to be an independent, self-governing tion with its own government and borders’. The feelings triggered were so strong that the majority was goaded to give the go by to the security and stability that EU membership has given Britain since 1973. Diversity may be good economically and culturally, but uncontrolled immigration comes with the danger of lack of assimilation, thereby setting the stage for large-scale social strife. Though the Brexit vote has no legal sanction and despite most British parliamentarians in favor of remaining, it is unlikely that the net British Prime Minister can ignore the referendum unless elected on a pro-EU plank later on. So the next PM is more likely to negotiate with the EU under Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty to begin formal withdrawal, while the EU will try to fast track the process to close ranks and minimize instability. Enthused by the Brexit vote, far-right parties in France, Greece, Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands too are now pushing for their own referendums. As for India in the near future, how it negotiates with the EU and Britain separately over Free Trade Areas (FTAs) will be vital for its economic interests. But there are lessons to be learned from this development, not just in EU but elsewhere too. It is that supratiol entities like the European Union will not carry much legitimacy for people of member countries if their fears and concerns are handled with indifference.