A fate­ful choice by Bri­tain

Pakistan Observer - - EDITORIAL & COMMENTS - Shahid M Amin

Con­ser­va­tive party forced Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron last year to an­nounce the hold­ing of a ref­er­en­dum on con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship of EU, in which the Con­ser­va­tive party it­self would adopt a neu­tral po­si­tion and party mem­bers were al­lowed to vote ac­cord­ing to their wishes. The op­po­si­tion par­ties —Labour, Lib­eral Democrats and the main party in Scot­land— sup­ported con­tin­ued mem­ber­ship of EU. The Bri­tish news me­dia split, with the more wide­ly­cir­cu­lated news­pa­pers sup­port­ing Brexit. Most fi­nan­cial ex­perts had warned that any with­drawal from EU would greatly harm Bri­tish econ­omy. Euro­pean coun­tries as well as the USA re­peat­edly ex­pressed the view that Bri­tain’s global im­por­tance would di­min­ish if it left the EU. But grow­ing na­tion­al­is­tic opin­ion in Bri­tain ob­vi­ously has thought oth­er­wise, as shown by the ma­jor­ity vote in the ref­er­en­dum.

It is clear that the de­ci­sion to quit EU will have far-reach­ing con­se­quences in po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and other spheres. As soon as the neg­a­tive vote be­came known, Prime Min­is­ter Cameron an­nounced his de­ci­sion to quit as Prime Min­is­ter. He had cam­paigned vig­or­ously for the Re­main vote but failed in his bid. His moral au­thor­ity has clearly been shat­tered and, in his res­ig­na­tion speech, he stated that the country needed a “fresh lead­er­ship” and he did not think that it would be right for him to try to be the cap­tain who steered Bri­tain to its next des­ti­na­tion. The Con­ser­va­tive party would de­cide in Oc­to­ber who would suc­ceed Cameron. It will be the first time that Bri­tain’s prime min­is­ter will not be cho­sen by a gen­eral elec­tion or by mem­bers of par­lia­ment, but by some 149,800 party ac­tivists, or about Email:shahid_m_amin@hot­mail.com 0.2% of the Bri­tish pop­u­la­tion. The lead­ing can­di­date for the post is Boris John­son, the for­mer Lon­don Mayor, who is re­garded as a con­tro­ver­sial politi­cian. In­ter­est­ingly, his grand­fa­ther was a Turk­ish Mus­lim, Ali Ke­mal, and his fa­ther’s name at birth was Os­man Ke­mal. But his fa­ther was or­phaned and raised by his ma­ter­nal grand­mother as a Chris­tian with a new name.

The ref­er­en­dum re­sult has also caused dis­sen­sions in the Labour party whose ec­cen­tric leader Jeremy Cor­byn has been ac­cused of lead­ing an in­dif­fer­ent cam­paign in favour of con­tin­ued EU mem­ber­ship. In this man­ner, both lead­ing par­ties are go­ing through a pe­riod of dis­sen­sion, some­thing un­usual in Bri­tain which is known for its po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity. More wor­ri­some is the di­vide in Bri­tain be­tween north and south, re­vealed by the ref­er­en­dum. The country seems to have been split right in the mid­dle. Scot­land voted largely in favour of con­tin­ued EU and feels ag­grieved by the ma­jor­ity Brexit vote. In 2014, Scot­land had de­cided by a nar­row ma­jor­ity to re­main in the UK. The prospect of Scot­land break­ing away from the union has in­creased as a re­sult of the EU ref­er­en­dum. Scot­land’s First Min­is­ter Ni­cola Stur­geon has also hinted that Scot­land’s par­lia­ment could use its con­sti­tu­tional power to block Bri­tain’s exit from EU. Clearly, the do­mes­tic po­lit­i­cal fall­out in Bri­tain from the Brexit vote will be sig­nif­i­cant. The strength, com­po­si­tion, and lead­er­ship of the gov­ern­ment are likely to be un­cer­tain, at least in the im­me­di­ate fu­ture af­ter the ref­er­en­dum.

Some ob­servers ex­pect that the Brexit “con­ta­gion” might now spread to Europe it­self where right­ist ul­tra­na­tion­al­ist par­ties have made gains in re­cent years. The sen­ti­ment to leave EU could in­crease in coun­tries like the Nether­lands, Den­mark and Swe­den. That would be a re­ver­sal of the move­ment for Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion that has been seen as a model for re­gional in­te­gra­tion in other parts of the world.

The eco­nomic fall­out of the EU ref­er­en­dum re­sult is al­ready ap­par­ent. Pound ster­ling suf­fered its big­gest one-day sell­off in re­cent his­tory com­ing down from $1.50 against the US dol­lar to just $1.33. More­over, stock mar­kets fell all over the world with an es­ti­mated $2.1 tril­lion lost in stocks glob­ally. Europe is at present the des­ti­na­tion of 50 per­cent of Bri­tish ex­ports and the largest source of in­vest­ment and there is likely to be a sig­nif­i­cant de­cline in both re­spects.

Al­ready, there are calls for a sec­ond ref­er­en­dum to undo the re­sults of last week’s ref­er­en­dum. Whether this can be done is un­cer­tain. Under the rules, the process of with­drawal from the EU can take two years but, first, the country con­cerned has to no­tify the EU about such an in­ten­tion. Lead­ers of EU coun­tries have been shocked by the re­sult of the Bri­tish ref­er­en­dum and want Bri­tain to ex­pe­dite the with­drawal process. Some ob­servers fore­see a painfully long process ahead and think that the worst is yet to come. Bri­tish and Euro­pean pol­i­tics have en­tered an era of un­cer­tainty. Bri­tain seems to be di­vided and the po­lit­i­cal con­ta­gion threat­ens to wreck the Euro­pean Union as a whole. In so­cial me­dia, the com­ment is be­ing made: Eng­land, what have you done? Don­ald Trump is happy over Brexit, as are ul­tra-na­tion­al­ists in Europe. — The writer served as Pak­istan’s Am­bas­sador to Saudi Ara­bia, the ex-Soviet Union, France, Nige­ria and Libya.

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