Prerna Lau Sian
On June 23 the UK public made a historic decision to leave the European Union. The vote to leave the EU was17,410,742 votes (52 per cent) whereas the vote to remain in the EU was 16,141,241 votes (48 per cent). The referendum turnout was 71.8 per cent, the highest turnout in a UK-wide vote since the 1992 general election. Whilst England and Wales voted strongly for Britain to leave the EU (term now known as ‘Brexit’), Scotland and Northern Ireland both voted to remain in the EU.
The results have divided not only the nation but it is the first time since the EU has come into existence that a member state has voted to leave. Since it’s the first of its kind, there is a great amount of uncertainty on how the process to leave the EU will work. UK Prime Minister David Cameron announced his resignation shortly after the result had been confirmed. As Cameron had campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU, he claimed that it wouldn’t be right for him “to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination”. The Conservative party will elect a new leader at their next party conference in October where they will then have the arduous task to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to start the legal process to formally leave the EU. A two year negotiating period will then follow. However, EU leaders are pressurising the UK to start the process as soon as possible to avoid prolonging the uncertainty. EU leaders are also fearful that other countries may follow suit, with French leader of the National Front, Marine Le Pen, speaking out in support of Brexit and calling for France to hold its own EU referendum.
In addition to Cameron’s resignation, UK's European Commissioner Lord Hill is to stand down and pressure is being applied to Labour party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn to step down. Two senior Labour MPs, Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey submitted a motion of no confidence due to Corbyn’s lack of leadership and campaigning for Britain to remain in the EU. Corbyn has retaliated by sacking shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn from the shadow cabinet amid claims he was encouraging ministers to resign should Jeremy Corbyn ignore a vote of no confidence.
The British public as well as politicians are still reeling from the shock of the referendum vote and more than 3 million people have signed a petition calling for a second EU referendum. A second referendum is highly unlikely. However, as the petition has fulfilled the requirement of having more than 100,000 signatures, it will have to be debated in the UK Parliament. Barrister at 33 Bedford Row, London Chairman of Hindu Lawyers Association UK and Secretary to the All Party Parliamentary Group for British Hindus, Jayesh Jotangia states, “the EU referendum was uncalled for and untimely. This country was not ready for it and that is reflective in the sheer volume of persons who are now regretting that they voted to leave the EU. In this day and age, it is important to recognise global issues, global partnerships and global agendas with the concept of unity. I understand that the EU has unreasonably evolved from a common platform to trade to political governance over of sovereign nations, but the EU referendum was unnecessary.”
The vote to leave campaign was heavily focused on the premise that UK sovereignty had been eroded by the UK’s succession to the EU. Laws and regulations were being made in the European Parliament and in areas such as competition policy, agriculture, copyright and patent law, EU rules override national laws thus taking away power from the democratically elected politicians in Westminster.
Furthermore, immigration also played a large role in swaying the British public to vote out of the EU. Pro-Brexit campaigners claimed that the UK independent of the EU would be able to control its own borders and not succumb to its immigration policies. Shortly after the EU referendum results, Boris Johnson, former London Mayor and MP for Uxbridge and South Ruislip stated in his speech “We have a glorious opportunity, to pass our laws and set our taxes entirely according to the needs of the UK, we can control our borders in a way that is not discriminatory but fair and balanced and takes the wind out of the sails of the extremists and those who would play politics with immigration.” Instead of being compelled to give precedence to EU members with regards to employment, the UK could negotiate employment and migration agreements with countries outside the EU. Mukesh Tyagi, former CEO Enron India ESSAR and Bollywood actor, told the Organiser “India will gain in terms of more employment and educational opportunities. The English speaking, technically skilled labour force and students from India will fill the possible vacuum created by leaving the EU. Indo UK Ties will see paradigm shift in every sense and political compulsion will force the UK to augment its cooperation with India.” Whilst India did suffer a fall in stock prices and the depreciation of the pound against the rupee, the long-term benefits could outweigh the short-term negatives.
On the other side of the spectrum, many feel that leaving the EU could result in economic ruin for the UK and the UK would be isolated from its trade partners. Commenting on the impact to India, Anesta Weekes QC says “India's historical trade relationship has always been good with UK but India is now ready to go beyond the UK to Europe, where trade and legal business can be increased. The gateway to Europe is the UK so it would be detrimental to the UK if India had to bypass her waters to get to Europe. This may mean a weakening of trade relations with UK”.
On Friday the 24th June, the day the referendum result was announced, the pound fell to its lowest level since 1985 with a loss of £122 billion to the FTSE 100. However by the end of Friday, FTSE100 closed down at 2.7%, a higher percentage than the beginning of the week. The hysteria and fear created after the results were announced, did take its toll on global economies where the German stock market fell harder than the UK FTSE100. In order to stabilise the market to reassure investors, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark J. Carney, announced that the central bank had £250 billion pounds available to inject into the market and that the Bank of England had extensive contingency plans.
The EU referendum results illustrate that UK citizens are willing to look beyond the scaremongering and short-term economic uncertainty, in favour of the benefits available to the UK to be more independent. Bob Blackman MP for Harrow East told the Organiser “I am very pleased that the ideals of freedom and democracy ultimately won out over pessimism and fear and, if nothing else, we should be extremely proud that the turnout was so high. This debate has energised people across the country to get engaged and the result needs to be respected across the political spectrum. Now we must come together and work towards our common goal of steadying the economy through the transition phase and make this happen as quickly as possible.”
When the UK joined the then EEC in January 1973 under Conservative Prime Minister Edward Heath, it was very different from the EU we now know today. The EU has been exceeding in its powers and remits in addition to rapidly expanding into countries not normally known for their compliancy of the ‘Copenhagen Criteria’, which lists economic strength and protection of human rights. The prospect of Turkey joining the EU has instilled fear in the minds of many in the UK who were also already bitter that the EU were unfairly pressurising the UK to accept more Syrian refugees. This coupled with the fact that the EU was unwilling to enter into further negotiations with Cameron despite his numerous attempts prior to the referendum, served as the final nail in the coffin to Britain’s membership in the EU. It is too early to assess what the full implications of Brexit holds, but overlooking the hysteria and panic, the referendum result is a clear indication that the British public has full faith in their nation to be great on their own.
(The writer is a London based Barrister (NP), writer, broadcaster on Nusound Radio 92FM)