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Leavers remain

The likelihood of the UK becoming a fragmented, diminished, intolerant, poor and rights-free country cannot be discounted any longer as the first effects of the Brexit are unfolding

Leavers remain

The EU referendum has sent shockwaves across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. Though the result was predicted to be close, the end result favoured the leavers by a margin of 4 per cent.

The immediate result of the Brexit is a run on the pound which slipped to its lowest in the last 31 years on the first Monday after the referendum. This financial panic is spreading to other sectors quite quickly. Already, some banks are mulling over relocating their staff to other European destinations.

In terms of domestic politics, the result showed how deeply the country is divided along lines of geography, class, and professional and educational level. As for immediate implications, let us begin with the Conservative party. The party which initiated the referendum has decisively swung to the right, with the modernising project of the Conservative party stopped in its tracks with the resignation of Prime Minister, David Cameron.

The nationalist, closet xenophobic, and rabidly free-market wing of the Conservative party is in ascendance. This development, together with the rise, and rise of the far-right United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) does not bode well for a tolerant, social welfare-ist and multicultural Britain.

The xenophobic far-right party’s fringe arguments have become mainstream with the support of the right-wing of the Conservative and Labour party. Not only the Conservative party, the right wing of the Labour party, using the pretext of the referendum, has united to unseat Jeremy Corbyn, the left-wing leader of the party elected with a huge mandate less than a year ago.

Beyond party politics, the future of the UK as United Kingdom is under serious challenge, too. The Scottish National Party’s (SNP’s) leader, Nicola Sturgeon, has strongly hinted at the possibility of a second referendum on independence from the UK. The SNP leadership is of the view that Scotland voted in favour of the EU and it would be a violation of democratic mandate to drag Scotland out of the EU against its will.

Read also: Corbyn or not

So, secession of Scotland is likely to be the first big casualty. In the same vein, Northern Ireland, having voted for remaining within the EU, is considering its future within the UK. There are huge issues about the future of Irish peace process, parts of which are driven by the European legal system.

This difficulty is also a harbinger of the wider issue of how the UK legal system, which has grown in parallel with the EU, will be entangled from the EU legal system as pointed out by some constitutional experts. In addition, the border of South Ireland will become the border of the EU, raising serious question about the future of the historically soft border between Ireland and the UK. If the leave agenda of border control is to be enforced, then border control will have to be introduced to prevent influx of migrants from the Irish border.

A petition seeking a re-run referendum has already clocked up 3m signatures. The leading light of the leave campaign are too weighed down by negative consequence of the EU referendum to jubilate over the leave victory.

More importantly, the leave vote will also lead to the imposition of an emergency budget to fill up the financial hole created by the Brexit. The austerity plus budget will hit the poorest hard, feeding into the already-simmering anger against the political elite widely perceived to be insensitive to the economic plight of ordinary citizens pressed hard by austerity cuts of the last six years.

This self-inflicted recession will further boost the fortunes of the far-right parties, such as UKIP which has been banging on about harsh economic condition imposed on the working class people by mainstream political parties.

In the past, EU has often gone out of its way to accommodate UK’s opt-outs and other anti-EU sensitivities. Yet the referendum result is a bridge too far for the EU leaders who had made numerous appeals to the British electorate to stay in the EU.

David Cameron, the outgoing prime minister, announced his own timetable for negotiation of an orderly exit from the EU in line with the Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Article 50 is to be invoked by the new leader of the Conservative party to be elected by October. Yet, EU’s top leadership has acted immediately to make it plain that the EU would like the Article 50 to be put into effect immediately.

This message was further amplified in an emergency meeting of the foreign ministers of the core EU (founding) countries who have pressed for exit process to take place immediately. This means UK will be made to leave the EU earlier than the two-year period being envisaged in the UK. What this reaction demonstrates is that the anti-UK stance among the EU leaders is hardening with serious repercussions for the EU-UK future relations.

Already, there is a talk of restricting UK’s access to the EU single market. Furthermore, the right of UK citizens’ automatic right of residence and work in the EU countries is under serious threat. An estimated three million UK nationals live in the EU. Some of my British friends living in the EU countries are already mulling their option of acquiring passport of the EU country of their residence. Broadly speaking, as a result of the Brexit, the European project is itself under threat of slowly unravelling.

Taking cue from the success of the far-right UKIP in UK, far-right parties in Netherlands, France and Denmark are calling for similar in-out referendum to be organised to determine the will of the people. These are some of the immediate repercussions of the Brexit. The full implications of the Brexit will not be clear for some time. As the enormity of this momentous decision is sinking in, even the leave voters seem to be regretting the decision to vote leave. A petition seeking a re-run referendum has already clocked up three million signatures. The leading light of the leave campaign are too weighed down by hugely negative consequence of the EU referendum to jubilate over the leave victory in a triumphant manner.

The likelihood of the UK becoming a fragmented, diminished, intolerant, poor and rights-free country cannot be discounted any longer as the first effects of the Brexit are unfolding.

Dr Arif Azad

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The writer, a development consultant and public policy expert, writes on policy matters, politics and international affairs. He may be reached at [email protected]

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