Many readers may have seen a lot in the news about Brexit and be wondering what all the fuss is about. Here is a simple summary. Brexit is the name given to Britain’s exit from the European Union, which is a second peaceful attempt to create a United States of Europe.
The first was much more violent and destructive to all concerned.The second world war was initiated by Germany under Adolf Hitler who wanted to create an empire by military might. His philosophy was “National Socialism”or Nazism. He intended to create an absolute dictatorship and regime that would control all of Europe, if not the world lasting for a thousand years. He started by invading Austria (which welcomed him, since he was Austrian by birth) then Poland,Czechoslovakia, France and later Russia. He was allied to Italy and on a more distant basis Japan. His invasion and conquest of Poland brought Britain and France into the war and eventually America, who actually won it. It lasted 5 years,took 60 million lives, caused the end of the British and French Empires, the rise of America and the Soviet Union as world powers, and the creation of our world today.
After the war, the political reality changed with the emphasis now being on containing Russia and it’s philosophy of Communism. Europe became divided between Russia and Eastern Europe and “free Europe” allied to America, separated by what was called the “iron curtain”. To strengthen this alliance it was decided by West Germany, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg and Italy or the Benelux countries to create an economic union leading to a political union. It began in 1952 with the European Steel and Coal Community (ECSC), followed by the Treaty of Rome creating a free trade zone between the six founding member states. This grew into the EEC or “common market” and eventually into the 28 member European Union as it is today. The European Economic Community was the model for ECOWAS, it’s East African counterpart, and ASEAN in Asia.
Britain was invited to be a founding member in 1952 and 1957 but refused to join until 1974 after a referendum. Britain had the opportunity to be in on the ground floor determining the rules and formation in ways that were to it’s advantage. Despite the losing the war, Germany has always had a high regard for the UK and pushed hard to get Britain involved. France reacted very negatively to Britain’s stance and did a lot to keep it out. In 1975 Britain joined the EEC motivated by the financial opportunities of trading with Europe on a duty free basis. This attitude has characterised Britain’s attitude to the EU ever since. They want the advantages but not the obligations, and certainly not a political union.
The EU is run by “Commissioners”, who are appointed by the founding member states. Their headquarters are in Brussels and they make all the key decisions which are binding on all members states. Each country has elected representatives to the European Parliament but this seems to be more of a “talking shop” than having real power. This structure has led to accusations that it is not “democratic”, by Britain especially. One of the founding principle of the Union is of free trade accompanied by free movement of all it’s citizens to live and work. No visas, residents or work permits required within the EU. With the collapse of the old Soviet Union (Russian Empire) many of their former states such as Poland, Czechoslovakia, Baltic states have joined the EU and their citizens now have the right to live and work in UK. As the world’s sixth largest economy, UK is a huge attraction to the smaller and poorer member states with many of their citizens coming to work in the UK. To be fair, Britain has a population of about 60 million while the EU as it stands has a population of 500 million each with the legal right to live and work in the UK.
The two main UK bones of contention are immigration and loss of control to the EU commissioners. Overall UK has benefited from EU membership financially, but a small minority of politicians have always resisted, believing that Britain was better off independent of the EU. A former Prime Minister (Margaret Thatcher) campaigned to join the EEC in 1975, but later changed her mind. She left behind a small group of Conservatives (the Euroskeptics) who consistently campaigned to leave the EU. Few people took any notice, but to settle an internal party row, David Cameron promised them an “in/out referendum” after the last general election. Boris Johnson (David Cameron’s close friend from university days) recently wound up his time as London’s Mayor and for personal reasons decided to campaign to leave the EU. He harnessed the dissatisfaction over immigration saying that it could only be stopped by leaving the EU. To his own surprise he got what he wanted.
Although the leave vote won by 52% to 48%, this referendum was not fought on party political lines, but on personal views and feelings of individuals. There were several divides: The older generation tended to vote leave, having grown up before UK joined the EU and seeing themselves as British. The younger generation tended to vote to remain, seeing themselves and their futures as Europeans and part of Europe. This has generated resentment on the grounds that the older generation has spoilt the future of the younger upcoming generation. London, Manchester and the cities tended to have a more international viewpoint and being used to immigrants and voted remain. The rural areas tended to vote leave, feeling most threatened by immigrants taking their jobs and bringing in alien cultures. Scotland voted strongly to remain in the EU seeing their economic advantage in staying in. Wales voted to leave. Strangely perhaps a large number of immigrants voted to leave, feeling threatened by the large number of current immigrants from Eastern Europe.
The unexpected outcome has created huge confusion and divisions at every level both in and out of UK. No-one ever anticipated the reality of a major player like UK leaving the EU. After 42 years of close economic, legal and social ties how is this process reversed? The EU is faced by this challenge at every level with different reactions from the member states. France wants Britain not only out but within the minimum two year period (Article 50), while Germany wants the matter to be given more time for discussion and possible Associate Membership. In UK both parties have a leadership crisis. David Cameron has said he will not be part of the withdrawal process and will step down within three months. His challenger Boris Johnson campaigned to leave but is unlikely to be supported by his own party; he has considerable grassroots support. Similarly the labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was elected by the grass roots but disliked and now disowned by his own MP’s who blame him for the leave success. Britain is in political turmoil, but on a daily basis nothing has changed. It is still a legal and economic member of the EU and life goes on as before.
Globally Britain a significant player both economically and politically so this has global implications, which could impact Gambia. One likely consequence is that immigration controls will be tightened. Gambians with European passports could no longer have automatic rights to live an work in UK. However, the UK still wants to trade with the EU as before and this cannot be separated from free movement of EU citizens. Having campaigned on the platform of reducing immigration to the UK, the leaders may not be able to deliver it. The logical step is to tighten up non EU migration which would impact Gambian and other African States.
Britain had at one time an empire that covered 25% of the globe, and is still the 6th largest economy in the world. It has huge trade with the EU which will not stop overnight. In short it is unlikely to collapse and disappear from the world scene due to this “divorce” from the EU even if it is painful and confusing over the next few years.
Hope this summary helps clarify and unprecedented and confusing political development.
Written By A Concerned Gambian British
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