Britain’s dilemma

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S Qamar Afzal Rizvi

GIVEN a British majority vote against the EU partnership, some analysts hold the view that the UK’s vote of divorce from a forty years old relationship with the EU is a clear reflection of Britons’ no to globalisation. Yet a fair analysis suggests that Britain seems to have undergone an ideological conflict between Euro-sceptics who ardently advocate for a nation state system; and Euro-fans who fervently believe in globalisation-driven trans-nationalism. Hyper globalises believe that globalisation is a real and powerful phenomenon that threatens to erode the role of national governments altogether. They see globalisation as a new epoch of human history characterized by significant changes in trade, finance and governance. They argue that as goods, capital and labour markets become more open, there is increased competition.
With the emergence of cosmopolitanism, it fairly appears that Britain, France, Germany or Italy could not individually resist the power of trans-national capital, but the EU potentially could. The way forward was clear. Move on from a single market to a single currency, a single banking system, a single budget and eventually a single political entity. Great Britain was no exception in light of heavy military expenditures that it sustained as an empire and fell into the cycle. Steve Lamy, a Professor of international relations of University of South California (USC) argues that Britain chose to leave the EU for reasons of sovereignty. He sees parallels between the Trump campaign’s stated aim of “Making America Great Again” and the nostalgia-driven British Leave campaign that desired a return to a time of greater British sovereignty and world influence.
The xenophobic group of sceptics thinks the Brexit victory was driven by the fear of the refugees and the flood of foreign workers seeking jobs in the U.K. That may be a factor, but it appears that the real issue is Tran nationalism that drives its roots from globalisation, and the very nationalistic response reflects a frustration with any state’s ability to respond effectively to the processes of globalisation that challenge its sovereignty in terms of its control over, or ability to manage, the forces of globalisation. Some argue that globalisation is pushing states and people within states to fragment, and Britain is in the fragmentation stage.
For the Euro sceptics, the domination — of the self-regulating market via globalisation— leads to a shift in the sectors of the economy the UK no longer has a comparative advantage in many manufacturing industries services. However, it can also place greater stress on UK housing and public services because of the net migration of people into the UK. The global credit crunch has had a very damaging impact on UK economy resulted by financial crisis in other countries.
Anyhow, in the age of globalisation, the Europhiles used to think that a more integrated Europe under the credo of acquis communautaire would collectively serve as the bulwark that nation states could no longer provide. And yet London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voters’ no to Brexit has vindicated the fact that the British community is largely divided on this issue. UK is transformed by globalisation but only London seems to be able to follow this evolution and is still now the main gate of globalisation because it benefits from cosmopolitanism. For the globalists, the hegemonic global regime involves the increased integration and interdependence of the global economy—thereby evolving a rise in trade, and increase in movement of labour and capital. Globalisation makes it easier for migrants to enter and work in the UK. This can help the UK fill job vacancies.
Now in the post Brexit phase, it seems that London will no longer be the world’s financial centre and thousands of employees in the financial sector will be (or will have to be) seeking employment elsewhere in Europe. British citizen will not be able to move freely throughout Europe anymore, and 2 million British expatriates living across Europe are confronting a sea of uncertainty. They may lose their property rights as local citizens, right to work, own and operate a business and may face a host of regulatory imperatives imposed upon them.
Though the British experience also shows how strictly globalist or sceptical perspectives cannot really explain processes of globalization vis-à-vis Brexit, it shifts this debate to the future trans-formationalist / moderate camp to decide the merit of current decision. Here one cannot overlook the argument that some of the institutions involved in the promotion of British globalization are, as the Euro-sceptics point out, not global – the nation-state’s role in British imperialism, the international economy and transnational politics, per se. But it would be unfair to see the British experience of globalization as one that merely leaves non-global institutions as they always have been. In the coming future, if the leave vote is implemented, it would discriminate against the younger population of Britain, whose orientation is globalism rather than nationalism, and who do not wish to leave their privileges to enjoy freedom of movement, export-import, investment, employment and social interaction with Europe. One response to Brexit vote from rest of Europe has been that a tough line should be taken with Britain to show other countries that dissent has consequences. Punishing Britain will not be a good departure for EU.
The referendum result could signal the beginning not only of Britain’s disintegration as a unified force, but also of a significantly weakened EU. Needless to infer the leave vote has caused Britain without a functioning government and the uncertainty associated thereof raising the issue of how to reverse the leave vote including the possibility of another referendum and avoid the invocation of the formal process of divorce from EU under Article 50 of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty.
However, Britain’s today dilemma is: they can maintain the status quo and remain a major international business centre or they can become a smaller, more isolated island that is a less important cog in the global economy – but at least one that honours its voters’ wishes. Britain today needs to move sanely and steadily towards a direction where its socio-politico and economic goals must not collide with each other. But fairly convincing enough that Old Europe’s carte blanche regarding the EU’s policy affairs remained one of the driving reasons behind the British verdict against the EU.
— The writer is an independent ‘IR’ researcher based in Karachi.