Here Comes Brexit

Here Comes Brexit

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.

The vote this Thursday in the United Kingdom over whether or not to remain a member of the European Union undoubtedly poses some very serious economic consequences for both the people of Great Britain, those on the continent, as well as in the U.S. It is clear, however, that the European and global consequences if Britain votes for Brexit go far beyond economics. Curiously, the consequence of a decision to leave will give clear affirmation to the extent to which nationalism and internal politics transcend even very significant economic questions including but not limited to employment and free trade. It would be the most obvious manifestation of how deep-seated is the desire today among citizens in a major global power if it votes to disengage from other major states, knowing that it will have dramatic economic consequences.

It is likely that without the five year Syrian civil war and the dramatically heightened debate and fear generated by the massive intensified European immigrant problem precipitated by the war and terrorist activity, there would have much less likelihood that the vote to leave would even have been a question. Heightened fear and nationalist fervor have captivated many in Britain and especially among supporters of the Labour Party. As a result, elements of racism, anti-Semitism, and Islamophobia have filtered into the discussion both explicitly as well as implicitly. (In the U.S. the Trump campaign clearly has exploited the similar attitudes among certain segments of the American public as well.)  

This is not to suggest that these same attitudes have not also grown on the Continent as well. Hard line nationalist parties are mounting in France, Greece, Hungary, and Austria, while they have already been present in Holland, Belgium, and even Germany. It will take a considerable time for the dust to clear should Britain opt out, but it is sure to have a major effect on U.S. relations with Britain as well as on the E.U.  

There is one interesting note of caution concerning any prediction being made by British pollsters concerning how the vote will go. Unlike the U.S. where since the 1948 fiasco when all the major polls predicted a Dewey landslide defeat of Truman, American pollsters have been remarkably accurate in their predictions; almost without exception. This is not true in Great Britain where there have a number of instances since World War II where the pollsters (and the betting pools) have not predicted accurately the disposition of the voters. This occurred as recently as the 2015 general election as well as the 2014 Scottish referendum.  (The same polling difficulty has occurred in other parliamentary democracies especially in countries with multi-party systems where factionalism frequently is unpredictable.)

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