The world reacts in shock and dismay as United Kingdom votes to exit the European Union. (Photo: Nicolas Raymond/flickr/cc)
By Nika Knight
Jun 24, 2016
In the wake of Britain's unprecedented vote to leave the European Union on Thursday, the initial wave of reaction was tumultuous: Prime Minister David Cameron resigned, global markets plunged, and right-wing leaders across Europe cheered—stoking fears that other nations may hold similar referendums to depart the EU in the future.
"The British people have made the very clear decision to take a different path and as such I think the country requires fresh leadership to take it in this direction," Cameron announced to the press on Friday. "I do not think it would be right for me to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination."
At one stage the prime minister appeared close to tears, The Independent reports.
Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who backed the "Remain" camp, is also facing a no confidence motion from some of his Labour colleagues, who are asking him to "do the decent thing" and stand down.
As the European left lamented the outcome, global financial markets were plunged into volatility in response to what most considered a surprise referendum result. "World stocks saw more than $2 trillion wiped off their value, with indices across Europe heading for their sharpest one-day drops ever," notes Reuters.
The pound sterling dropped to its lowest value against the dollar since 1985.
Right-wing leaders across Europe (and beyond) celebrated the vote. France's right-wing nationalist party Front National (FN) "saw it as a clear boost for Marine Le Pen’s presidential bid next year and momentum for the party’s anti-Europe and anti-immigration line," writes the Guardian.
"The freedom of the people always ends up winning! Bravo United Kingdom. Now it's our turn!" tweeted the party's vice president, according to the Guardian's translation.
What follows is a roundup of what is certain to be a tumultuous day of European and world reaction, as politicians and political observers weigh in, human rights and environmental defenders fear for their causes, xenophobic ideologues express vindication, and various nations consider their next moves.
Endangered Climate Protections
Newly emboldened, anti-immigrant Brexiteers do not care much for the environment—Brexit champion and former London mayor Boris Johnson is a vocal climate change skeptic—and green groups now fear that Britain will slide backwards on its climate protection commitments.
"Some big name politicians will now use the referendum result to weaken wildlife protections," observes Craig Bennett, CEO of Friends of the Earth England, Wales, and Northern Ireland. "This means some of the UK's best loved wildlife sites at now in the firing line—including places like Cannock Chase, Flamborough Head, Dartmoor and Snowdonia. And the protection that the EU Habitats Directive gave to over 1000 animal and plant species and 200 habitat types is now in danger."
Fracking proponents are also already looking to take advantage of the Brexit to "fast-track" the controversial mining method in the UK.
"Many of the laws which my organization uses to ensure that nature and health are protected in Britain were drawn up with the UK's agreement in Brussels," said James Thornton, chief executive of Client Earth, a UK-based environmental law group.
Indeed, in a report (pdf) issued by Friends of the Earth earlier this year, Dr. Charlotte Burns of the University of York noted that "in the field of environmental policy, perhaps more than any other area, the EU has had an overwhelmingly positive effect."
Climate Change News' Ed King reports that the "first climate test of the UK’s new politics comes next week, when ministers are due to approve greenhouse gas cutting targets through to 2030," adding:
Four-year carbon budgets are legally mandated under the 2008 Climate Change Act, but it's a piece of legislation long detested by many in an emboldened and swelling Brexit camp.
With government approval already delayed due to the referendum vote, Labour's climate envoy Barry Gardiner said he has "huge concerns" over the budget's future, despite an assurance from energy minister and leave supporter Andrea Leadsom it would be signed off.
King argues that EU leaders will also let climate change protections fall to the wayside as they reel from Britain's decision: "No mistake, this vote is a savage blow to the guts of the European Union, leaving governments across the region stunned. Few will have global warming as a priority."
Emboldened Right-Wing Stokes Fears of Splintered Europe
With the historic vote for a Brexit swelling the confidence of right-wing parties around the world, pro-EU politicians fear that other countries may move to leave the union soon.
Indeed, anti-immigrant, nationalist parties in Sweden, France, the Netherlands, and Denmark have all demanded their countries also hold referendums on whether to leave or remain in the EU.
Italy's nationalist 5-Star movement is pushing for a referendum on the Euro, as well, according to Reuters.
"I congratulate the British people for beating the political elite in both London and Brussels and I think we can do the same," Geert Wilders, leader of the Dutch anti-immigrant PVV party, told Reuters. "We should have a referendum about a 'Nexit' as soon as possible."
Social media observers let off steam by jumping on the pun potential of various countries' EU departures:
Right-wing presidential candidate Donald Trump, in Scotland to promote his golf courses on Friday, told the media that Britain's vote was a "declaration of independence," and likened it to his own presidential run.
An Independent Scotland, A Unified Ireland?
Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, but their votes were overtaken by the pro-Brexit camp in England.
First Minister of Scotland Nicola Sturgeon has responded by calling another referendum on Scottish independence—in order for an independent Scotland to remain in the EU—"highly likely."
According to the Guardian, Sturgeon said:
I have made it clear to the prime minister this morning that the Scottish government must be fully and directly involved in any and all decisions about the next steps that the UK government intends to take.
We will also be seeking direct discussions with the EU institutions and its member states including the earliest possible meeting with the President of the European Commission.
I also be communicated over the weekend with each EU member state to make clear that Scotland has voted to stay in the EU and I intend to discussion all options for doing so.
Meanwhile, Northern Ireland's Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness has also called for a "border poll on a united Ireland," the Independent reports: "As the region shares a land border with the Republic of Ireland, it is unknown how the relationship between the two countries will be affected by Brexit."
Jeremy Corbyn Responds
In a tweet, Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn released a statement calling on Britain's leaders to "respect the outcome of the vote."
"After yesterday's European referendum, politicians of all parties must listen to and respect the outcome of the vote," Corbyn wrote. "Millions of voters have rejected a political establishment that has left them behind. Communities that have been the hardest hit by government cuts and economic failure have voted against the status quo."
"Ours is the only party that can meet the challenge we now face," Corbyn added. "Labour is best placed to re-unite the country[...] because we share people's dissatisfaction with the status quo."
Corbyn is facing a no confidence motion from his party. His supporters have countered with a petition calling for Labour Party unity.
Immigrants and refugees in Britain and Europe face a frightening future in the wake of the successful, xenophobia-fueled Brexit campaign, human rights advocates say.
"I can only give a sigh: so it's done," said Poland's Foreign Minister Witold Waszczykowski. 850,000 Poles currently live in the UK.
"This is bad news for Europe, bad news for Poles," Waszczykowski continued. "The status of Poles living there will not change for now, but we don't really know how much Britain's status will be changed."
"Victory for a Brexit campaign that has unashamedly tapped into anti-immigrant sentiment could be disastrous for anyone who doesn’t look and sound like Boris Johnson or Michael Gove," wrote Global Justice Now policy officer Alex Scrivenor before the vote. "The climate of fear and insecurity that already exists for migrants from the global south will also apply to those from Europe. The UK will become a scarier place to be an immigrant."
"The Brexit debate was sadly contaminated by unpleasant xenophobic undertones: wherever it is that the UK is now heading, these sentiments and this kind of politics should have no place," observed Amnesty International in a press release.
"The challenge now, is to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us and universal human rights are central to that," the rights group concluded.
The challenge is indeed a steep one: anti-immigration officials in France are already looking to force migrants living in the refugee camp in Calais into Britain by imposing border controls on the French side of the border, as the Brexit will allow them to renegotiate their border treaty.
'Global Economy Isn't Working for Everybody'—Bernie Sanders
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont addressed the economic discontent in the UK as well as the "breaking down in international cooperation" that the Brexit vote reflects.
"What this vote is about is an indication that the global economy is not working for everybody," Sanders said on MSNBC's Morning Joe.
"What we need to do is create a situation where there is more international cooperation, put an end to these horrific wars that we have seen over the years, but at the same time we must make sure we do not forget about the people left behind, and make sure we have jobs, and income, and healthcare for all of our people," Sanders said.
Did Neoliberalism Bring on the Brexit?
Leftist commentators on both sides of the pond are pointing out the rejection of neoliberalism and globalization within the UK's "Leave" vote—while lamenting the racism and nationalism that has prevailed over progressive arguments for workers' rights and against austerity.
"This worldwide turn toward fear of the Other is globalization's shadow self."
—Richard Eskow, Campaign for America's FutureAs Richard Eskow of Campaign for America's Future writes:
Make no mistake: The "Leave" vote was a rejection of globalization, at least as it's currently structured. This was a revolt of working class Britons who have seen their postwar prosperity erode around them and their social contract eviscerated by the corporate and financial oligarchy.
But it was also the sign of a darker and more sinister worldwide phenomenon: the resurgence of global nativism and xenophobia. This worldwide turn toward fear of the Other is globalization’s shadow self.
"We deeply regret that the working people of Britain have been deceived and manipulated into believing that Brexit will bring about relief from the grinding austerity that is destroying lives and communities," writes UK-based Left Unity. "We will now work tirelessly to oppose those who would divide us further."
"We will fight to rebuild the British left on uncompromisingly anti-racist, pro-immigration terms, making no concessions to the false narrative that has dominated the referendum debate," Left Unity declares.
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