Brexit or How Hatred can End the Biggest Civilization Project in the 21st Century

European Union (EU) is the oldest and most established regional organization in this world. For a very long time, EU has been the most referred to when we are talking about regionalism. It’s very understandable since the organization has successfully build a cross-border economic integration involving 28 European countries who, until a few decades ago, only know how to fight among themselves. Not only creating cooperation, the organization has also implemented a very complex system that allows European countries to integrate even further. Two fine examples are Eurozone and Schengen System. The Eurozone allows a direct trade between EU countries by using the same currency. Because of this, trade between EU countries is much easier because they no longer need to exchange their currency to trade. Meanwhile, the Schengen System is a single-visa system that allows EU citizen to travel in between European states with only a single document. Be it business trip, studying, working, or even travelling, anything goes in Schengen System. Based on these examples alone, it can be said that EU has successfully diminish borders between states. Such a feat definitely deserves an appreciation.

However, not everyone is happy with the current state of EU. Especially in Britain, the country has been very unhappy with the direction of EU. Ever since the inception, Britain has consistently criticized EU for being too centralistic and even compared it to the Soviet Union. Britain is a proud country that is isolated from the mainland Europe due to its geographical condition as an archipelago. This creates strong nationalism in every British people and is the source of their dismissal to the creation of EU. Yet despite their criticism, Britain still joins the EU because they see an opportunity to improve their economy in that organization. The relation between Britain and EU can be seen as a pragmatic relationship where each party seeks to gain the most benefit from each other. For this reason alone, the relationship between Britain and the EU is a very shaky one and doomed to fail. Still, the relationship between those two persists up until the fateful moment in 2004.

One day in 2004, Tony Blair, the then British Prime Minister, for some reason, decided that it is okay to let the newly-joined Eastern European countries to enter Britain without any restriction. At that time, EU is in the process of enlargement. Ten Eastern European countries were accepted to be new member. Eight among them were the infamous A8 countries, known for their relatively low GDP compared to other EU countries. Due to the risk of weak countries dragging down other strong countries, the EU allows each of their members to impose temporary ban on the movement of the people from A8 countries. Most EU members rationally decided to impose that temporary ban, except for Britain. Without a doubt, the people from A8 countries who were looking to improve their economic condition moved to Britain, the only rich EU country who opened their immigration gate. Immigration flows to Britain surged between 2004 and 2015 because of this. The Department of Immigration in 2015 reported that there are 8.5 million immigrants in Britain from 4.7 million in 2004. Unsurprisingly, the British people were not happy with that report.

It is no secret that most British people were racist. The idea that they must coexist with people from Eastern European countries is very difficult to comprehend for most British people. Especially when they feel that those people has stolen their jobs, the feeling that they had were no longer disgust but also hatred. In 2015, the hatred toward immigrant in Britain is at its peak. An ultraconservative and far-right party, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), has recently won the election for EU parliament. Their message was clear: “Immigration is the source of all problem in Britain. Britain cannot control their immigration policy within EU. Britain must exit the EU!” Back in 2000s, the idea that Britain should exit the EU can only be expressed as a joke. After all, Britain managed to become one of the strongest world economy due to their access to EU single market. However, after the surge of immigration flows to Britain, the idea has gained dramatic support from the people. David Cameron, the British Prime Minister at that time, was afraid that people’s support to UKIP will be dangerous for his position. Because of that, he ceded to UKIP’s demand and promise that Britain will hold a national referendum upon this matter if he got elected again in 2015. This promise cannot be seen as nothing less than a political move to ensure his position as a prime minister.

Turns out that Cameron was re-elected in 2015 and so he must keep his promise. Still, Cameron thought that holding a national referendum is very risky. As a Conservative Prime Minister, he knows very well that Britain’s economy is better within the EU. If Britain truly leaves the EU, he felt that it will only bring an economic downfall to his country. Therefore, Cameron offers another solution. He promised that he will make a negotiation with the EU to allow Britain regaining their control on immigration policy. EU has a very strict immigration policy based on the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. Every EU member is expected to abolish their border and uphold the principle of freedom of movement. This is the reason why Britain cannot have control of their immigration policy within EU and also the biggest reason why they cannot simply deport immigrants from their country to solve their problem. The negotiation was held in February 19th, 2016. David Cameron has to go face to face with the other 27 members of EU to negotiate his demand. The result was a total failure. The EU can tolerate Britain’s absence in Eurozone and Schengen system but they cannot tolerate Britain’s ignorance to the fundamental rights of EU. Since his solution failed, Cameron can no longer run away from keeping his election promise.

The day of British Independence

Nigel Farage, the then-Leader of UKIP, celebrates the so-called 'British Independence Day'

The referendum to decide Britain’s fate in the EU was held in June 23rd, 2016. The country was divided between those who wants to ‘Remain’ in EU and those who wants to ‘Leave’ the EU. The result was Cameron’s biggest nightmare. The Leave camp won by 52% to Remain’s 48%. Despite it being very close, a majority rule means that the wish of 48% British people to remain in the EU must be ignored. Therefore, June 23rd of 2016 becomes Britain’s ‘independence day’ from the EU. Cameron, who was very ashamed with his decision to hold the referendum, resigned from his position as a prime minister. The new Prime Minister, Theresa May, complied with the result of the referendum and invoked the article 50 of European Union Treaty regarding a divorce of EU member. And so, Britain’s long but shaky relationship with the EU ended in 2016. The President of European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, called it the “day of sadness.”

Britain’s exit from EU (widely known as Brexit) is a historical phenomenon that is on par with the fall of Berlin Wall or the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The occurrence of Brexit means that a great shift in the world paradigm is going to begin. If the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki marks the end of fascism and the fall of Berlin Wall marks the end of communism, Brexit marks the end of liberalism. Britain was one of the frontrunner of liberal idea in the West. The country even once went so far as invading Iraq simply to fight for the idea of liberalism. The fact that they have decided to exit the EU means that they can no longer tolerate the liberal idea. After all, EU is the very representation of liberal idea, an organization whose sole purpose is to abolish borders between European countries to create cooperation and deep integration. Yet Brexit insults that idea by saying that migration is bad and a country is better by being independent from the influence of supranational actor. Together with Donald Trump’s victory in the US, Brexit marks the day when isolation and non-cooperative action can be praised once more.

Ultimately, migration is the biggest factor contributing to Brexit. According to Stephen Castle’s theory, migration is said to be able to transform the structure of a society in a country. Migration is not only transporting people or goods but also idea. In case of Britain, migration transports the idea that anyone can work in any country without being prejudiced. However, the British people simply cannot take this idea and so it creates a rejection. Because of this rejection, a country who was once neutral to immigration transforms into a country who hates the idea of immigration. The change in society structure will in turn change the country’s national interest as well. Starting from 2013, Britain officially expresses their protest to EU immigration policy. In his written opinion in 2013, David Cameron even gave a threat that EU must change their policy or Britain will hold a referendum. This is definitely a significant difference in behavior compared to Tony Blair who openly welcomes immigration.

I also find that the decision to exit the EU, despite being criticized as an irrational behavior, is actually a very rational one due to the change in Britain’s national interest. Due to the people’s demand, controlling immigration has become the focus of Britain’s national interest in 2013. Therefore, it is only normal for a country to fight for their national interest. The negotiation between Britain and EU in 2016 can be seen as their last effort to fight for their interest. However, the negotiation went into failure. Based on John Mearsheimer’s theory on neorealism institutionalism, a state will only participate in an international cooperation if they can fulfill their national interest by doing so. According to him, an international organization can never control state’s behavior. Even if a state complies to the rules made by international organization, they only do it voluntarily in order to fulfill their national interest. Therefore, once a country realized that their interest can no longer be fulfilled by committing to the international cooperation, they will simply leave it. In this case, when the negotiation between Britain and EU in 2016 went into failure, Britain finally realized that EU can no longer fulfill their national interest. In fact, Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum is made only a day after the failed negotiation. Based on Mearsheimer’s theory, we can safely judge that Britain’s action is indeed the rational one.

The Irony of Idealism

Tony Blair has sworn to reverse the result of Brexit, let's see what he can do

In the end, Brexit has already happened and nothing can be done about it. I believe that the impact of this phenomenon could be very severe for EU’s effort to further integrate the Europe. Brexit has raised the optimism of similar movement throughout Europe. Ever since 2011, far-right groups who want to remove their country from European Union has gained support throughout the continent. Even in France, which is the main founder of European Communities, an ultraconservative party named National Front has nearly won presidential election, twice. If Marine Le-Pen, the leader of National Front, becomes a French President, then France’ exit from EU is only a matter of time. If the similar situation also happened in Germany, Netherland, and other European countries, then it will mark the end of the biggest civilization project in the 21st century. The potential for EU disintegration, albeit very small, is a very serious thing. Ten years ago, someone spoke of EU disintegration will never be taken seriously. But nowadays, people are talking about it every day. EU is truly under a serious threat ever since Brexit.

In conclusion, I believe that all of this situation can be blamed to Tony Blair’s decision in 2004. If only he went along with other EU countries and imposed temporary ban on the movement of A8 countries, then the surge of immigration flows to Britain would never happen. Without the surge of immigration flow, racist party like UKIP would never gain power and David Cameron would never be forced to promise a risky proposal such as a referendum about Britain’s membership in the EU. Then again, I also cannot fully blame Tony Blair. He was just a person who really believes that British people can live together happily with every European people. He was just a person who was blinded by a good idealism about a world where people can freely move and found their happiness anywhere. Still, I find it very ironic that Tony Blair’s desire to further European integration is actually the biggest reason for their disintegration.


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