On 23 June 2016, the British came out in large numbers to vote for a referendum that marked the turning point for their relationship with other European Union (EU) member countries. The majority of the people voted in favor of leaving the EU. It was not the first time that Britain had expressed its desire to leave the union (Goodwin and Heath 325). In 1975, the country conducted a similar referendum, where most people were against leaving the union. The United Kingdom (UK) has had a troubled relationship with the EU member states for over four decades (Goodwin and Heath 329). Thus, it hoped that the referendum would bring these challenges to an end. Currently, withdrawal negotiations are underway between Britain and the EU member countries. Nevertheless, it is clear that the rapport between Britain and the EU has taken a new and vague direction. The UK is currently experiencing economic, social, and political upsets that are bound to affect the entire EU and the world at large. The referendum did not only impact the relationship between the EU and Britain but also resulted in the divided UK. This article will discuss the aftermath of Brexit.
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The Divided UK
The majority of the countries forming the UK were against leaving the EU. Scotland voted overwhelmingly against the exit plan. Additionally, Northern Ireland and London were in favor of remaining in the EU. A large part of England expressed displeasure with its relationship with the EU and supported the decision to leave the union. Wales also endorsed the leave camp. The lack of unity amid various regions makes it hard to envisage the future of the UK. One wonders if countries such as Scotland will one day demand to split from the UK. The country has threatened to conduct an independence referendum, which would enable it to rejoin the EU. It is hard to understand the position of Northern Ireland as the state did not vote together with the other parts of England. There are speculations that Northern Ireland might decide to leave the UK and enter into a partnership with the Republic of Ireland. The call by First Minister Martin McGuiness for the establishment of a United Ireland, which came days after Brexit outcomes, was a precursor of uncertain future between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
The rift is not apparent only across the regions but also within England. There exist disagreements between London and other parts of England. According to Aristeidis and Elias, there is a wide gap between London and the de-industrialized and rural parts of the country (265). While London voted massively (60%) to remain in the EU, the other regions were in support of leaving. It is not clear whether the political class will manage to rule a divided nation. Additionally, there are divisions amid the political class as not all of them are in favor of either staying or leaving the EU. Both the Labor and Conservative parties have members of parliament who are in support of or against Brexit.
Economic concerns formed one of the primary subjects of the Brexit debate. Parties opposed to Brexit, such as the UK treasury, claimed that the move would affect the country’s economic growth. Conversely, proponents of Brexit argued that it would help to minimize the country’s net contribution to the union, hence boosting government spending in the UK. A day after the referendum, the government issued a statement assuring the public that the country was heading in the right direction (Aristeidis and Elias 265). The Bank of England governor insisted that the country’s economy was stable. However, his speech did not coincide with what was happening on the ground. The stock market witnessed a remarkable drop in the value of shares of major British financial institutions (Aristeidis and Elias 265). Additionally, principal credit rating organizations responded to Brexit outcomes by lowering the country’s credit ranking.
The London Stock Exchange confirmed the economic concerns of those opposed to Brexit, albeit temporarily. The Financial Times Exchange (FTSE) 100 Index recorded a noteworthy drop immediately after the market opened (Aristeidis and Elias 267). On 27 June, the locally-focused FTSE 250 Index went down by at least 14% (Aristeidis and Elias 267). Nonetheless, by 1 July, the FTSE 100 had begun to show some improvements. No one expected it to rise beyond pre-referendum levels. On 11 July, the index rose by over 20%, entering the bull market region (Hardy and McCann 166). The FTSE 250 also showed significant improvement since the referendum.
Brexit affected the stability of the UK pound. When Brexit results started being transmitted, the indication that the leave camp was leading contributed to the drop in the value of the pound. After the final results were announced, the currency slumped to its lowest since 1985 (Hardy and McCann 167). One might argue that the pound will regain its value and stabilize once Brexit negotiations are finalized. Nevertheless, the uncertainties surrounding Brexit and the future of the UK will continue to haunt the currency for an unforeseeable period of time. The UK market is bound to remain volatile for some time until the fate of Brexit is determined. The political indecisiveness within the UK is also contributing to market volatility. Most potential investors are skeptical about investing in England. Indeed, many investors have opted to delay their investments hoping that the current situation will stabilize. Hwee holds, “Concerns about the future of London as the key financial center will no doubt weigh on investors and businesses”. Indeed, economic volatility has cost the United Kingdom a lot of foreign investments.
Spread of Euroscepticism
Pessimistic narratives and toxicity characterized the Brexit campaigns, resulting in people developing negative opinions regarding the EU. The campaigns contributed to the rise of Euroscepticism and gave momentum to anti-establishment fringe parties throughout the European states. The referendum crusade ruined the EU’s status in the eyes of its people due to the manner in which different crises were addressed. There are worries that Brexit was just the beginning of the end of the EU. Other countries may also opt to conduct referendums to determine their future in the union. On the other hand, scholars argue that Brexit might be a blessing in disguise. It may enable the remaining EU member states to develop ways to address future disagreements. In fact, there are those who speculate that the EU will be more realistic and articulate from this point onwards.
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The Fate of the EU and UK Immigrants
The referendum raised concerns regarding the British citizens working and living in the EU member states and the EU immigrants residing in the UK. At the time of the poll, at least 1.2 million UK citizens were working and staying in different EU countries (Aristeidis and Elias 279). On the other hand, over 3.7 million EU immigrants were residing in the UK (Aristeidis and Elias 279). It was hard for EU countries to determine the future status of these people. Before the referendum, many expatriates could move to the UK in search of jobs. However, one year after the poll, the number of EU immigrants moving to the UK declined from 284,000 to 230,000 (Aristeidis and Elias 281). Conversely, the number of EU immigrants relocating from the UK rose significantly.
The current British Prime Minister, Theresa May, promised that she could leverage the status of the EU citizens living in the UK to negotiate with the European states (Aristeidis and Elias 283). She threatened to deport the immigrants if the EU did not provide favorable exit terms. Today, the status of the EU immigrants living in the UK remains uncertain as negotiations are ongoing. The UK government maintains that it will only guarantee the condition of the EU immigrants living in the country if assured that the European leaders would protect the rights of its citizens residing in their countries. States such as Germany have expressed their willingness to defend the rights of the UK immigrants living in the country. The German Vice-Chancellor claimed that his country would relax citizenship requirements for the UK immigrants to safeguard their status.
Brexit outcomes led to the rise of concerns regarding the free movement of people across the borders of the EU member countries. A few days after the results, the Conservative politicians argued that Brexit would have insignificant impacts on the movement of immigrants between the states (Aristeidis and Elias 271). According to the politician, the referendum was not meant to radically reduce the number of people coming to the UK but to regulate their movement. On the other hand, the Prime Minister argued that leaving the EU implied controlling the number of EU immigrants moving to the UK but also guaranteeing the success of those who wish to do business. A home Office document disclosed in 2017 confirmed that Britain planned to terminate the free movement of immigrants after Brexit and impose controls to make sure that only the highly skilled European workers got into the country (Aristeidis and Elias 284). The British government intended to offer low- and semi-skilled immigrants a temporary residency lasting for two years.
The majority of the Conservative Party members are opposed to the idea of not regulating the movement of the EU immigrants to the UK. They consider the restriction of movement as one of the primary reasons that led to most of them voting to leave the EU. On the other hand, the EU leaders have vowed to deprive Britain of unlimited access to the single market if it does not guarantee the free movement of its people. France has expressed its interest to renegotiate immigration agreements with Britain. The former is against Britain’s move to erect roadblocks along the Channel that separate the two countries. France argues that Britain has limited free movement of French Immigrants by installing border guards along the Channel.
Impacts on Researchers
The UK government has assured the EU immigrants that their legal rights will not change until further agreements are reached. Nevertheless, most EU scientists are concerned about their future. Currently, over 16% of the university staff in the UK comprises researchers from the EU member countries (Stokstad). The researchers are now worried about their status. They are hesitant to initiating new projects because they are not assured of getting funds or accessing research facilities. Neither the EU nor the UK is giving them sufficient information regarding their future. Recent political developments in the UK have compounded the problem. The current prime minister has done little to clarify the fate of university-based scientists and the research department is no longer responsible for the universities.
Today, universities in the UK are assuming the responsibilities of their activities. For instance, at the Imperial College London (ICL), where a considerable percentage of its students and staff come from the EU countries, the human resource department is encouraging scientists and learners to apply for citizenship or residency (Stokstad). Additionally, the college is providing financial assistance to those interested in applying. The misperception and insecurity surrounding the EU scientists and students in the UK subject the country’s research to risk. Brexit threatens Britain’s continued participation in Horizon 2020, which is a program that funds essential studies in the EU (Stokstad). Most EU scientists argue that the involvement of the UK researchers in the program will deny them a chance to get funds. Others allege that exclusion of the UK scientists will lead to Britain withholding its financial support, thus hindering the completion of ongoing projects. The UK scientists are also afraid that their government might fail to buy into Horizon 2020 after cessation. Additionally, they are doubtful that the government will increase funding to cater to the resources that came from the EU members.
Germany is among the countries that have benefited politically from Brexit. In the EU, the size of a member states influences the political decision-making system. Thus, the departure of the UK gave the largest member states more influence. Germany is the biggest in the economy and population. Additionally, it has the highest credit rating among the EU countries. Consequently, it will have a significant influence on the EU. Korolewski holds, “France and Italy cannot balance Germany’s quasi-hegemonic position given their domestic economic and financial downturn”. The rise of Germany as the most influential country in the EU has led to increased tension, particularly in states that have no faith in Berlin. For instance, the far-right National Front Party has gained significant power in France.
According to Reuters, Brexit purged the European Union decree that held the UE member states together. The decision to leave the EU has resulted in apprehension amongst the UK’s four constituent countries. Northern Ireland and Scotland were against Brexit while Wales and England preferred to leave. Currently, there is tension between the national government and the Welsh, Scottish, and Northern Irish administrations (Kokotovic and Kurecic 29). The federal government is accused of making political and economic decisions without involving the regional administrations. The impacts of Brexit on the future of the UK are intense and erratic. Currently, domestic politics are quite toxic. Brexit poses essential constitutional problems to the entire UK. Failure to consider the needs of the various regions will result in further divisions within the UK.
Brexit has reduced the UK’s influence at the global level. Blockmans and Emerson argue, “The EU has acted as a multiplier for the UK’s foreign and security policy interests throughout the world, backed by the weight of the EU’s single market and its wide range of foreign policy tools”. Britain did not get the support of its friends from the Commonwealth, Europe, the United States, and the world at large. Secession from the EU has reduced the UK’s ability to promote its foreign policy interests at the world level. Other countries no longer perceive Britain as neutral.
Britain has not benefited economically from Brexit. Instead, the decision to leave the EU has affected the country’s most significant stock indexes. Uncertainties about the future of the country’s economic growth have contributed to instability in the value of the UK pound. Investors have opted to wait for the ongoing negotiations to be completed before they decide to invest in the country. There are fears that the UK’s trade deficit will increase as the country may not have access to the EU’s single market. Many experts argue that the political repercussions of Brexit will be more severe than they already are. Scotland has already expressed its intention to call for a referendum to secede from the UK. Although the UK will eventually overcome all these hardships, it could have avoided them by opting to remain in the EU. The economies of the UK and the EU are mutually dependent. Thus, the two parties will have to reach a common ground. The fate of the EU and UK immigrants depends on the ongoing negotiations. Failure to agree on immigration policies will result in the UK losing a significant number of highly skilled immigrants who contribute to its economy. Moreover, government spending will rise as UK immigrants move back to their country.
Aristeidis, Samitas, and Kampouris Elias. “Empirical Analysis of Market Reactions to the UK’s Referendum Results – How Strong will Brexit be?” Journal of International Financial Markets, Institutions and Money, vol. 53, no. 1, 2018, pp. 263-286.
Blockmans, Steven, and Michael Emerson. “Brexit Consequences for the UK – and the EU.” Center for Policy Studies, 2016. Web.
Goodwin, Matthew, and Oliver Heath. “The 2016 Referendum, Brexit and the Left Behind: An Aggregate-level Analysis of the Results.” The Political Quarterly, vol. 87, no. 3, 2016, pp. 323-332.
Hardy, Jane, and Leo McCann. “Brexit one Year on: Introducing the Special Issue.” Competition & Change, vol. 21, no. 3, 2017, pp. 165-168.
Hwee, Yeo Lay. “Brexit Aftermath: Implications and Repercussions of the Vote to Leave EU.” The Strait Times, Web.
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Kokotovic, Filip, and Petar Kurecic. “The Case of Brexit: An Analysis of the Political and Economic Factors.” Journal of Economic and Social Development, vol. 4, no. 1, 2017, pp. 27-36.
Korolewski, Ireneusz Pawel. “Political and Economic Consequences of Brexit.” Central European Financial Observer, 2016. Web.
Reuters. “Brexit’s Effects on the U.K. ‘Will be Profound and Unpredictable,’ Lawmakers Say.” Fortune, 2017. Web.
Stokstad, Erik. “Uncertainty Reigns in aftermath of the United Kingdom’s Brexit Vote.” Science, 2016. Web.