BREXIT: It’s like breaking up with your girlfriend, unfriending someone on Facebook and making Vladimir Putin happy all at once

June 27, 2016
Phil Johnson, Ph.d.

Ok, so the UK has made a decision for itself – to leave the European Union. While the vote was close, the majority of voters decided it was time to walk away. But nearly half the country disagrees that the UK will be better off outside the EU and people are feeling quite emotional right now.

The post-breakup comments that I am hearing from “across the pond” sound exactly like the comments you hear when a teenager breaks up with his boyfriend or girlfriend: “What? You were serious about this? It’s really over?” “You lied to me!!” “I’ll never have a future without you!” “You never really loved me…” “I’ll never take you back!”

And then, of course, there are your friends who have been standing at the edge of your just-ended relationship. They have their comments too… “So, uh, hey, I heard you’re not dating Europe anymore? Do you mind if I have a shot at her? She might like Scottish guys.”

During the hurt, uncertainty and post-breakup turmoil, the EU will take a good hard look at herself, probably lose a few pounds, go back to the gym, get a new haircut, take stock of herself to make sure she doesn’t lose anyone else. Britain will date around – meaning, she’ll see what kind of meaningful trade relationships and partnerships she can get. Trust me, for all fear and uncertainty that’s out there – I think the UK will do OK for herself – she has been a reliable business partner with stable financial institutions and has been a successful mediator between nations that have not always gotten on so well.  It will take time – but she’ll be fine.

First, let’s recognize that being part of the EU was really appealing if it gave you more global power, if you got to simplify some things (like trade and movement between each other’s countries) and enjoy each other’s good times and prosperity. But in reality, not everyone puts the same effort into work and prosperity and it’s harder to go through the hard times with each other – especially if you think you’re putting more into the relationship than you’re getting out of it.  Skepticism towards the European Union is not new and the UK is not alone in its concerns. But for now, let’s take a look at some of the major questions that pop into our minds regarding  this new turning point in history.

1.) Question Number One: Was immigration the primary motivation for the UK’s leaving the EU?

Actually, the way some would phrase this question would be: “Was racism the primary motivation for the UK’s leaving the EU?”

It is fair to say that immigration was a huge factor in many people’s Brexit decision. In the last year, Britain’s net migration hit 336,000 according to the Office of National Statistics (and as reported by BBC and the Washington Post).

Being part of the EU means that anyone who is a member of the 28-country block could move and work in any of the other countries. A lot of Europeans were coming to the UK to take advantage of jobs and benefits there. And a lot who were not European. More people than many Brits were comfortable with.

Pressure to take in more Syrian refugees and fears due to increased acts of terror in Europe also didn’t help. There was a general feeling among those who voted, “leave” that it was time to take some control of Britain’s borders and immigration policies. National security is a very reasonable concern.

But to be honest, there were other reasons to dislike the EU as well. Reasons that had nothing to do with being white or racist. (Some polls indicated that a third of British Asians were planning to vote their way out of the EU.) The European Union is a huge bureaucracy – and with bureaucracy comes corruption and waste. So additional factors affecting the decision to leave included Britain’s cost of being a member of the EU (financial numbers that varied greatly depending on which side of the argument you were on), wasteful spending, bothersome regulations, and the feeling that the “powers that be” in Brussels were not giving due attention to the needs and desires of the member states.

2.) Why does the UK leaving the European Union make Russia’s Putin happy?

It’s very simple – a weaker Europe makes a stronger Russia. With Britain leaving, one of the strongest members of the EU has just exited. Mr. Putin’s biggest disappointment in his life is the demise of the Soviet Union. And the European Union has always been seen as the biggest rival to Russian power.  His biggest fear/annoyance is having NATO in his backyard. This decision of the UK may help move him closer to his old dream and further from current threats. (Keep in mind how strong European sanctions have been against Russia since the annexation of Crimea as well as Russia’s general concerns of having Ukraine possibly absorbed into the EU – which would put NATO on his doorstep.)

But it’s not only the UK that signals potential changes in the EU. The Danes and the Dutch may have their own referendum about the EU.  According to Sky News,  “Italy, Greece, Finland, Sweden, Hungary, France and even Germany are seeing a growth in anti-EU parties. Some, like the French National Front, have enjoyed funding from Russia.” Putin, has every reason to feel optimistic about his prospects for growing regional power and influence.

3.) Why are terrorist groups happy about BREXIT?

To begin with, former British Prime Minister, David Cameron mentioned that rivals like Putin and ISIS would be pleased if Britain left the EU. That might be true… but you don’t say that out loud, Mr. Prime Minister. (Well, of course you do if you’re a politician – because fear is your number one tool of motivation. It just worked in the opposite direction this time…)

Anything that disrupts the normal flow of things makes some radical groups believe that there is an opportunity to sow the seeds of chaos. Some Western intelligence sources reported ISIS messages encouraging their members to strike during this time of confusion – specifically at Berlin and Brussels.  ISIS is hoping that Britain’s departure from the EU will create economic turmoil and hardship – and what is bad for the West is viewed as good for them.

4.) Are any other European Union members at risk for leaving? 

I’ve already listed a number of European nations that have seen the growth of anti-EU political parties. This has much of the leadership in Europe concerned – worried about a dominoes effect and the possible weakening of the European bloc.

But, if you listened to German Chancellor, Angela Merkel’s comments, you’d better not be considering it. The Chancellor voiced regret at the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, calling it a “blow” to Europe.”We take note of the British people’s decision with regret. There is no doubt that this is a blow to Europe and to the European unification process,” she said. But she warned EU member states against drawing hasty conclusions about Britain’s decision to quit the bloc, as that risked further splitting Europe.”

Time will tell how the Brits fare from their decision. My guess is that it will look a bit worse before it looks better. Some European nations may seek to “make an example” out of the UK – as a warning to others who may try to break up with the EU. But others will embrace the British with open arms, better trade deals and the respect she deserves. In the best possible sense, the world would not be the place it is today if it were not for the Brits and their inventiveness, risk, resolve and character. I’m betting that in time, they’ll be better off.

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