Brexit, or “British exit,” became a reality this morning after the surprising vote by UK citizens to leave the European Union. With the loss of one of its strongest members, what’s next for the European Union and the UK itself?
The move by British voters to exit the EU has left many questions unanswered and the future uncertain. Global financial markets and the British pound plummeted this morning, with the pound sterling trading at historic lows against the U.S. dollar.
Reaction to the vote in the media, which was called just after 4 a.m. local time, has been one of universal shock. A report in today’s Telegraph is unequivocal about its potential effects, calling the move “the greatest disaster to befall the block in its 59-year history.” A piece in USA Today calls the move a “stunning rebuke to the ‘European project’ and their own political class.”
The UK after Brexit – Scotland, Northern Ireland to split?
Where the historic vote leaves the United Kingdom itself is unclear. Prime Minister David Cameron, who campaigned on the promise of a referendum on EU membership, resigned from office early this morning in London. Cameron was emotional during his resignation speech.
Those who wanted to remain in the EU have warned of a slow down to economic growth in the UK both in the short and long terms. But the EU vote may have much deeper repercussions for the nature of the United Kingdom itself.
Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is quoted in the Telegraph as calling the chances of a second Scottish independence referendum “highly likely” in the wake of the EU vote. The Telegraph reports on a press conference where First Minister Sturgeon points out that the people from all parts of Scotland voted 62 percent to 38 percent to stay inside the European Union. She called the removal of Scotland from the EU “democratically unacceptable.”
“I intend to take all possible steps and explore all possible options to give effect to how people in Scotland voted, in other words to secure our continuing place in the EU, and in the single market in particular.”
Brexit may even prove to be the final spark towards Irish unity. Reuters reports that Sinn Fein member and Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has called for a referendum to finally reunite Northern Ireland with its republican neighbor to the south. Fifty-six percent of voters in Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU.
Reuters quotes McGuinness in an interview on national Irish broadcaster RTE.
“The British government now has no democratic mandate to represent the views of the North in any future negotiations with the European Union and I do believe that there is a democratic imperative for a ‘border poll’ to be held.”
Will Brexit break up the Union – what’s next for the EU?
The whole Brexit movement has been tied to anti-immigration and other right-wing sentiments. As the USA Today report notes, many sources worry that the move by the British to reject inclusion would add momentum to similar movements in other member nations.
Economic turmoil in EU nations like Spain and Greece could also strengthen the nationalist movements like the Five Star Movement in Italy. As reported in Euractiv, the Five Star Movement, seen as an anti-establishment alternative to mainstream political parties, and in France, far-right leader Marine Le Pen, have already been calling for a similar EU vote in their respective countries this past week.
Martin Schulz, the president of the EU commission and parliament, is already working with leaders like German chancellor Angela Merkl to combat that trend. He’s quoted in the Guardian.
“The chain reaction being celebrated everywhere now by Eurosceptics won’t happen.”
He notes the economic incentives for member states to stay in the EU.
“Britain has just cut its ties with that market. That’ll have consequences, and I don’t believe other countries will be encouraged to follow that dangerous path.”
The Guardian reports on a joint statement issued by Donald Tusk, the president of the European council; Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the EU commission; and Martin Schulz, the president of the EU parliament, along with Mark Rutte, the prime minister of the Netherlands, which holds the EU’s rotating presidency. The statement calls for quick action to facilitate Brexit, saying that any delay would “unnecessarily prolong uncertainty.”
European leaders expressed their regrets in a public statement, but most vowed that the EU would continue. Many noted, however, that change was overdue. The Guardian quotes a televised address by French president François Hollande.
“To move forward, Europe cannot act as before.”
In legal terms, Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the document that essentially created the EU, contains only a few rules that pertain to how a state may exit. Brexit and the unprecedented EU vote represent the first time any member state has elected to leave the European Union.
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