ALMA COLLEGE NEWS SOURCE
TOPIC: On June 23, 2016, in a non-binding referendum called by the British Government, voters narrowly supported a British withdrawal (or “Brexit”) from the European Union (EU), 52% to 48%. In England, which has roughly 85% of the British population, support for the “Leave” option was 53.4%, while in Wales it was 52.5%; Northern Ireland and Scotland voted to “Remain” with 55.8% and 62.0% respectively.
SOURCE: Britt Cartrite, professor of political science at Alma College, can provide commentary and analysis on the British referendum. Cartrite has research interests in comparative politics, ethnopolitical mobilization, regionalism, Western European politics and Scottish identity. He has a Ph.D. from the University of Colorado.
On the campaign rhetoric:
“In the last weeks of the campaign, as the economic costs of Brexit became clearer, the rhetoric focused largely on the recent influx of workers, particularly from Eastern European countries within the EU, and the negative impact on working-class Brits still suffering the consequences of the Great Recession of 2007. But other issues, such as a distrust of EU bureaucrats in Brussels and the fear of English and British identity being lost as Europe continues to deepen its unification, also played an important role.”
On the global shockwaves and uncertainty:
“What is certain is that today nothing legally is different than yesterday; however, it is also clear that the immediate future is very uncertain, and this uncertainty is sending shockwaves across the globe. The referendum itself is not legally binding, so legally the British Government is not required to do anything, but politically the government must begin the process of withdrawal, and the current prime minister, David Cameron, has resigned (effective in October). Under the terms of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, this withdrawal can be negotiated or automatically comes into force in two years’ time, severing all legally binding provisions in place. There are many issues that need to be resolved quickly, particularly regarding British trade with the European Union and the status of European Union citizens currently working and living in Britain. The significant uncertainty in the short term has already had tremendous negative effects on financial markets, and the head of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, has stated this morning that the withdrawal process needs to move swiftly in order to minimize further uncertainty.”
On the potential for political backlash:
“While I expect cooler heads will prevail, and sooner rather than later, it is clear many European leaders are unwilling to treat the British withdrawal charitably, particularly in light of the concessions granted by the EU to Britain this past February in an attempt to bolster support for the “Remain” campaign. Britain has been a reluctant partner since joining the European Communities (the precursor to the EU) in 1972 and is already exempted from a number of EU institutions (notably the single Euro currency and the Schengen border control area). The British government took a political gamble in an attempt to undercut growing support for the United Kingdom Independence Party and lost, harming the entire Union in the process, so it seems reasonable to expect that, at least in the short run, there will be a political backlash against the British by Europe.”
On the question of the reunification of Northern Ireland:
“There is also considerable uncertainty for the Republic of Ireland, which uses the Euro as its currency but maintains significant special relationships with Britain as well (most notably in having a separate border control area from the rest of Europe). In addition, Northern Ireland voted 56% to remain in the European Union; this has once again raised the prospect of reunification of Northern Ireland with the Republic by political parties on both sides of the border, this time in terms of Northern Ireland remaining in Britain or remaining in Europe. As of this morning, the Irish Government is stressing the need to address the more immediate implications of the British withdrawal, putting off for the time being any discussion of reunification.”
On the question of another independence referendum in Scotland:
“Finally, every constituency in Scotland voted majority Remain, with 62% of voters in Scotland voting to Remain. Scotland’s First Minister, Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon, has stated that another independence referendum for Scotland is “highly likely.” In the referendum in September 2014, 55% of voters supported remaining in Britain, but there has been considerable dissatisfaction with the lack of progress on political reforms promised by David Cameron since then, and now the issue will be framed as remaining in Britain or remaining in Europe. Interestingly, while there was considerable uncertainty as to the process of an independent Scotland’s joining the European Union in 2014, the withdrawal of Britain may smooth the ascension of an independent Scotland to the EU, particularly in light of the ill will apparent by European leaders. However, in the Scottish elections this past May, the SNP lost its outright majority (winning 63 of 129 seats), so an independence referendum would require the support of other parliamentarians outside the SNP; the Scottish Green Party, which is also pro-independence, holds six seats and seems a likely supporting partner for a new referendum.”