The UK is eating itself alive. The consequences for the world will be profound.
On Thursday the UK will vote in a referendum to decide whether to stay in the EU or leave the organisation of 28 member nations.
From the southern tip of Africa it might seem like a far-away debate but this move will have repercussions that will hit us sooner rather than later.
A “leave” vote on Thursday will no doubt be devastating for the UK. Already the pound sterling has taken a beating against major currencies. Business is jittery. Business leaders and economists are predicting massive job losses and an economy that will stall.
There is, however, another, greater danger. Brexit – as the break-up is called – will lead to a Nazi-type radical nationalism, fascism and racism in Europe.
Already, in France, the right-wing National Front leader Marine le Pen continues to gain ground and is a serious contender for the presidency in the 2017 election.
In Germany the racist, right-wing Alternative for Germany has seen massive growth in support recently by beating an anti-immigration drum.
In the UK the pressure for exiting the EU emanates from the right-wing, anti-immigration UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage, a man who has claimed that there is a higher risk of sex attacks by migrants if the country stays in the organisation.
On Friday, Le Pen gave a fiery speech at a beer-swilling rally of European far-right “patriots” in Austria. She claimed that, by exiting the EU, the UK “is regaining its liberty, its freedom to trade with whom it pleases”.
Her message was eerily akin to the words of the man accused of murdering British Labour MP Jo Cox on Thursday.
In court on Saturday, accused Thomas Mair gave his name as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.
What does all this mean? Europe is in danger of falling apart into tiny little fascist, nationalistic enclaves of the type that existed before World War 1 and 2.
The UK itself might very well disintegrate: Scotland might want another referendum on leaving the UK, and then England and Wales will be left all alone while the Scottish tribe drifts away.
Politically, Britain’s governing Conservative Party is so divided over the issue that it makes our ANC’s fissures look as sedate as the queen’s summer garden party.
Already there is grave talk that whatever the result of this week’s referendum Prime Minister David Cameron will face a revolt from within his own party.
Newspapers report darkly that Boris Johnson, the pro-Brexit former mayor of London, is preparing to “move” against Cameron after Thursday.
Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover wrote: “I foresee months, if not years, of internecine warfare among Conservatives.”
How did the UK get to this point? How did it get to a situation in which business leaders are warning that the UK faces economic meltdown if it decides to leave the EU while the “Brexiteers” warn that staying in means being controlled from Brussels while foreigners “flood” (that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) the country?
Sadly, Cameron is to blame. After negotiations with the EU in 2013, and right-wing pressure particularly from Ukip and its leader Farage’s strident anti-immigrant rantings, Cameron promised a referendum on whether to stay in or leave the EU.
Cameron thought he could get away with a “sensible” result. The gambit has blown up in his face and now the “Brexiteers” are on the rise.
Last week an Evening Standard newspaper poll showed that the campaign to leave Europe was gaining ground with 53% of Britons now wanting to leave and 47% wanting to stay.
What now? The world is worried about the prospect of the UK turning its back on the EU and essentially the world. Janet Yellen, US Federal Reserve chairman, revealed last week that US interest rates were being held steady, partly because of EU jitters.
“It is a decision that could have consequences for economic and financial conditions in global financial markets,” Yellen said.
For me, former British prime minister Gordon Brown made the most salient point about what Brexit would mean.
In the New Statesman magazine, he wrote: “Each of the EU’s 28 member states has abolished capital punishment, tightened gun control laws and championed human rights . We are united by a belief that foreign policy is not just an exercise in protecting interests but also about advancing ideals . But now this set of beliefs is under fire.”
Thursday’s Brexit vote might change the global political architecture in fundamental ways. An EU without the UK might tip the world back to the fascistic, mean, dangerous political waters of the 1930s.
We will feel the effects – through trade, diplomacy and other ways – here in South Africa.
Source: Times Live