So, last week, the United Kingdom did it. They voted narrowly to leave the European Union.
Well, kind of.
Okay, actually, they didn’t. This was a referendum among the citizenry to ascertain popular opinion about the EU. The actual process of leaving the EU requires the British government to invoke Article 50 of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty and declare official intent to leave the European Union. And then from there is a two to ten year process in which the British government has to hammer out trade, transport, and military deals with each of the 27 remaining countries in the Union.
Article 50 is also a somewhat vague document, and has not actually been used yet, so nobody completely knows just how it will work. But for the moment, the UK has not actually triggered it just yet. So, for now, everything about exiting the EU is speculative.
It’s interesting to me that the British nativists that voted to leave the EU apparently didn’t think about what that would mean for the integrity of their country. Not just the negative economic impacts (which I think they underestimated), but the fact that Scotland and Northern Ireland may very well break away – and then rejoin the EU. England and Wales alone – without an EU membership – is a weaker and less influential nation than the United Kingdom as we knew it just last week.
Are there decent arguments for Britain leaving the EU? Perhaps.
But most of those weren’t addressed by the LEAVE campaign. Instead, simple dog-whistle politics came into play, with a strong undercurrent of xenophobia guiding the anti-EU crowd.
“They’re taking our jobs” is a refrain all too familiar to American voters, who have been duped by fear-mongers into shaking with terror at the brown horde swarming over our southern border, taking our jobs, committing horrific crimes, and depressing our economy.
Or not, as it turns out.
They’re also more likely to pay more into the system (via taxes) than they receive back (services) than native citizens.
Of course, immigration isn’t exactly the same in the UK, and the open-border policy of the European Union sometimes leads to greater tensions in smaller areas. But studies have shown that areas with large amounts of immigrants have actually seen reduced crime levels, not more. And the supposed strain on services is as overstated there as it is in the US.
The UK is a significantly LESS ethnically diverse nation than the US, but tensions are often just as high. Perhaps the smaller land area plays a role – people tend to be crowded into smaller areas, which can aid unrest.
In any event, politicians (particularly, but not exclusively Tory) in the UK have spent months stoking fears of immigration problems, telling voters that remaining in the European Union would only bring more of these issues. Human excrement launcher and former London mayor Boris Johnson told his country thanks to the EU, the sky was falling, and the only way to hold it up was to kick out those awful multi-culturalists from the Continent.
Economic and regulatory claims were used as well, albeit often in simplistic and exaggerated ways. The famous example of multiple regulations on pillows (among other items) was greatly overstated, while ignoring the benefits of easy commerce.
Unintended (or possibly even intended) consequences were ignored and glossed over by the LEAVE campaign. “Short-sighted” is the best way to describe the various LEAVE advocates… well, maybe after “racist,” “ignorant,” “dishonest,” and “fear-mongering,” of course.
Regardless, short-sightedness is a particularly dangerous mentality.
This sort of mentality – where immediate fears trump long-term planning – is the same problem that causes some of the United States’ biggest issues:
- Congressional Republicans deny the very existence of climate change, and those that do admit it’s a real thing either downplay it, or claim that nothing can or should be done. Meanwhile, the extreme problems that will result from ignoring it are going to greatly impact their children and grandchildren. They are pissing away their future based on fear and greed. Fear of regulation, fear of angering corporate backers, and apparently fear of an electorate that’s actually more liberal than many of the representatives they elect.
- The constant drumbeat from the right for trickle-down economics… this incessant march toward flattening and reducing taxes, while cutting only the tiny slivers of government spending that helps citizens (while increasing the military budget) greatly boosts the deficits they rail against. It’s an amusing irony that Republicans frequently win elections deriding “tax and spend” policies of their Democratic opponents, all while pursuing fiscal policies that have already failed them on both the national level and state levels. This short-sightedness is entirely about helping their special interests (large businesses and the richest individual citizens) gain as much as possible in the sort-term, while ignoring any sort of long-term economic gain. Reaganomics increased inequality (decreasing overall wages in all but the top income quintile), increased the budget deficit (and then the national debt). It has long since been shown that significantly reducing taxes on the rich does *not* drive economic activity enough to make up for the revenue loss. This has been proven, but is STILL treated as fiscal orthodoxy by most nationally-elected Republicans.
- Nuclear proliferation, and the current nuclear deterrence policy. The entire Cold War was an exercise in paranoia and… yep, you guessed it, short-sightedness. Constructing tens of thousands of nuclear weapons (when a couple hundred would still annihilate most of the planet) was an example of immediately gratifying fear and militarism, while ignoring the long-term consequences. Right now, 25 years after the Cold War ended, with multiple arms treaties and arsenal reductions since then, the United States still has several thousand nuclear weapons on hair-triggers, ready to destroy almost every major city and military installation east of the Black Sea. We still have the capability to destroy ourselves several times over, despite the multitude of near-misses and close calls throughout the 20th century. If more Americans knew just how many times we nearly nuked ourselves over the years, there would be much more popular support for disarmament. As it stands, our nuclear policy, from 1945 up to now, is a great example of not looking to the future.
Can we see into the future? No, of course not. Trying to predict with certainty what will or won’t happen is nearly impossible. But we can certainly analyze what MIGHT happen and what is statistically most likely to occur.
Splitting from the European Union would, as mentioned in the link above, require up to a decade of political and diplomatic uncertainty. While the UK would likely still remain militarily allied with most of Europe (as well as the US), there is no guarantee of what might end up happening once all is said and done. The overall economic stability of the continent has already been affected, and will likely remain weaker for some time to come.
The UK, as it stands, has (depending on the method of measurement) the fourth or fifth largest economy in the world, and the fourth or fifth largest military. That’s just the UK by itself, without the EU. While not part of the shared currency, the UK is still deeply intertwined economically with the rest of Europe, and cutting down those ties will weaken both Europe and the UK, at least for several years.
Meanwhile, within Britain itself, much turmoil is occurring. Scotland is only a year removed from attempting to split from the UK, and it was a close call then. The Scots are significantly more liberal and Euro-friendly than the rest of the UK, and voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU. Many in Scotland are already calling for a new referendum to leave the Kingdom, and become a fully independent nation – one which would almost immediately petition to join the EU.
Just across the North Channel in Northern Ireland, citizens there have reacted in a similar manner to the Scots. They also voted to remain in the EU, and now as a reaction to the “Brexit” vote, have begun discussing reunification with the rest of Ireland.
So, in theory, leaving the EU would also mean the UK itself could dissolve. Losing Scotland and Northern Ireland would be damaging to the British economy and infrastructure. 11% of the British population and more than a third of its physical territory would be gone. The economic impact of 7 million people leaving the labor force would be huge.
A significant percentage of the British military is based in Scotland, especially the Navy, and much of the British nuclear arsenal.
The Scots would certainly annex much of the UK’s military resources (though they have already stated they don’t want the nukes), leaving England and Wales to have to rebuild that aspect as well.
Finally, there’s the matter regarding immigration – the centerpiece of the LEAVE campaign. There actually isn’t a great deal of evidence yet that leaving the EU will greatly reduce net immigration to whatever remains of the UK.
Belonging to EU meant the UK had an open border with the other EU countries. However, the UK actually controlled its own immigration from non-EU states, which amounted to around half of total immigration. And if the UK remains in the European Economic Area, the same way non-member Norway is, than very little may actually change from an immigration standpoint.
So, there’s a lot to consider with the UK leaving the EU. Both politicians and voters appear to have not fully considered the consequences of their decision. Indeed, many Brits have apparently admitted to making a mistake in voting LEAVE, and an astounding number seem to have not fully understood what they were voting for.
So, we come back to short-sightedness. That, and a general lack of… we’ll say careful consideration, for the outcome of big decisions. We screw that kind of thing up in America all the time. The Brits have gotten a taste of that this month.
UK Prime Minster David Cameron came into office promising to hold a “Brexit” vote. Then he spent the whole time leading up to the vote fighting for the REMAIN side. Aaaand… it bit him hard, right in the ass. Now THAT’S short-sighted.
Will it turn out alright in the end? Maybe. But – should they have put themselves into this uncertain mess so blindly? Hey, we do it. And we’ll get a chance to do it again this November.
In an interconnected world of 7.3 billion people, major political decisions can impact EVERYONE. We can’t afford to be selfish. This is chess we’re playing. We can’t just move a bishop across the board without thinking about that pawn on the other side, defended by its own bishop. Everything has a reaction. Maybe we should start looking before we leap.