Sunday, June 26, 2016

The British Vote to Leave the European Union

           Voters in the United Kingdom elected in a referendum Thursday to leave the European Union.  There will now be two years of negotiations between the British and the E.U. on separation.

            Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his resignation by October, in order to allow someone else to lead those negotiations.  As I explained in my last post, he had negotiated concessions from the E.U. if the U.K. had remained in the union, as the referendum on E.U. membership was the fulfillment of his campaign promise, but he had urged the British to remain in the union.  He had raised the possibility of further concessions if the U.K. remained, but the E.U., fearful of losing more power or members, made it clear none would be granted.  There will be parliamentary elections, which will lead to a replacement of Cameron.

            There was a high turnout in the referendum.  England and Wales voted to leave the E.U., while Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to remain.  The strong opposition by Scots to leaving may lead to another referendum on independence, as part of the reason they had rejected independence in 2014 was that Scotland would have been left out of the E.U.  The E.U. would now more likely accept a membership bid by an independent Scotland to join the union.  There will also likely be increased pressure for Northern Ireland to separate from the U.K. and unite with the Irish Republic, which is in the E.U. 

            The leadership of all the main political parties favored remaining in the E.U., but there were splits in the two main parties.  Many English working class voters in Labour (the main liberal party) strongholds voted to leave, while most Conservative Members of Parliament favored leaving and many Tories voted to leave the E.U.  The United Kingdom Independence Party fulfilled its purpose of a British exit from the E.U.

            The campaign to leave succeeded in overcoming “Project Fear,” the name given for the scare tactics by the pro-remain side I referred to in my last post that predicted doom and gloom if the U.K. leaves the E.U.  Although there were many xenophobic nationalists who favored leaving, the pro-remain side erred in dismissing the concerns of principled critics of the E.U. as bigoted or intolerant or anti-European.  As I noted in my last post, these critics were concerned about the significant loss of sovereignty to a growing, unelected E.U. bureaucracy that does not necessarily share British values and that promulgates ever more regulations to which the European Parliament is unwilling or unable to object, the loss of British representation on international bodies and the cost of E.U. membership that outweighed the benefits of free trade and passport-free travel throughout the union.  Immigration was thus a major concern, because of the free movement of people permitted by the E.U., especially after Germany allowed in a million refugees and migrants from Muslim States, which then allowed them to spread to the other Members of the E.U., including the U.K.

Instead, the British felt confident they could make their own decisions in their best interests and prosper even more outside of the E.U.  The U.K. will now seek a new relationship with the E.U., which needs to trade with the British, and establish new trade agreements with others, especially the U.S., Canada, Australia and New Zealand.  With a new American President, the British could negotiate a free trade agreement with the U.S.  The likelihood of a new E.U. free trade agreement with the United States, however, is now diminished.

            There have since been increased calls by politicians in several European States for referenda to leave the E.U.  The E.U. may have to reform or grant more concessions to its members to avoid a complete breakup.  

           I congratulate the British for asserting their independence to exercise their sovereignty through representative government.  I wish them success in their separation negotiations with the European Union and look forward to their new relationship with the U.S.  I urge the E.U. to reform and other Europeans peacefully to regain their sovereignty.  

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