The people have spoken, and they voted Brexit. Will they suffer from Regrexit?
If you don’t know… ‘Brexit’ stands for ‘British Exit’. The U.K. recently engaged in a referendum to determine whether it should take the leap to leave the European Union. Approximately 52% of the population voted to leave the EU, creating a margin of about 1 million votes.
You can find a map showing the results of the vote here.
The outcome of the vote is confusing… As a Canadian living in the UK (London, to be exact), and someone who has closely studied the law of the European Union, it has been
interesting to witness this historical event from the front row. However, this is one front row seat that I would prefer not to have.
For some, the results foster a sense of uncertainty and apprehension, for others a sense of pride and relief. For most in London, it is the former that we feel, given the absolute necessity of immigrant populations to the economy in the city.
For those who are not at the forefront of the issue, it’s hard to understand exactly what has happened, and what the implications are. The outcome is largely attributable to the way that leaders played to the fears and concerns of the general population, and a people’s discontent with the way that things have been going. This is very similar to what happened in Alberta’s last election – people were unhappy with the establishment, leaders from all sides made promises that they probably couldn’t keep (such is politics…), and the result was historically significant despite uncertainties associated with it. Interestingly, though the people democratically elected the NDP party, many seem to dislike the decision that they made… The same has happened with Brexit.
Here are some of the major issues at play:
Immigration. Make it stop. – Part of the beauty of the European Union is that it constitutes the largest open market in the world. With this freedom of trade also comes free movement of persons, meaning that immigrants from other European countries have the right to work in the United Kingdom. Of greater concern to people from the Leave camp is that immigrants from many countries are entering European countries with more lax policies, and then moving to the UK. With a general anti-Muslim sentiment cropping up in most westernized countries, this perceived ‘threat’ was a major factor in the Leave campaign. It was argued that leaving the EU would allow the UK to take back control over its immigration policy.
UK sovereignty. Don’t tell us what to do! – Now isn’t the time to give an overview about the law of the European Union, but it is important to point out the EU law consists of a number of measures, regulations, and directives that each member state must incorporate into its domestic law. As a historically colonial power, the UK largely struggles with having its power impacted in any way. Leaving the EU was presented as a way to regain legal sovereignty.
Too much money is going to the European Union! Let’s keep it here. – Of course, being a member of the EU comes with some cost. People in the UK expressed discontent at the idea that their tax dollars are being paid into the Union, rather than into domestic services that would benefit them. Taxes in the UK are quite high, given that the country supplies the population with universal healthcare and a considerable social safety net.
From one perspective, these issues are fairly straight forward… leave = money stays in the UK, immigrants go away, and the UK gets its own legal system. Unfortunately, the issues are far more nuanced. Confusion about the referendum was obviously illustrated when reports showed that, after all was said and done, the top Google search results were ‘What is the European Union?’ and ‘What does it mean to leave the EU?’.
What role did some of the leaders play, and what can we learn from them?
Let me tell you, this referendum has caused an unprecedented political shakeup in the UK…
The leader of the Conservative party and Prime Minister of the UK, David Cameron, was originally a Leave supporter and ended up advocating the opposite. This was deadly for him. As a majority leader who once had the confidence of the people, waffling on his position obviously cost him a great deal of authority and credibility. Cameron has resigned (effective July 13th!) since the majority of the country does not support his view. This is a good leadership lesson – don’t waffle. Stick to your guns, and you will maintain authority. Of course, it’s important to reevaluate and consider when you may be in the wrong, but entirely changing a position, rather than carefully amending it, will only do you a disservice.
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party (UKIP), was the staunchest of Leave supporters. This historic event has also caused Farage to resign. He claims this is because he has ‘achieved his goals’. I would argue that this wasn’t the case, given that Farage is notorious for being disingenuous and a regular bullsh*t artist (no judgment here!)… He was very publicly caught out when he promised that money saved from Brexit would be spent directly on domestic services, such as the National Health Service. Of course when it came down to a vote to leave, Farage couldn’t confirm that he could deliver on this promise (one that was a major factor in many people’s vote to leave!!). Moral of the story? Leaders should never knowingly say something false, preach it as gospel, influence people, then let them down when everything comes to a head. Being honest with yourself and those who look up to you is essential to being a successful and effective leader.
Jeremy Corbyn, new head of the Labour party, has also been subject to calls to resign. As a Remain supporter, it didn’t instil much confidence in his leadership abilities when a majority of Labour supporters voted to leave. He is still fighting to keep his place, despite a loss of confidence from his party, and a clear gap in understanding between leader and supporters. There comes a time as a leader when you may have to work hard to get people on board with the broader message. After much effort, if it still isn’t working, you should reevaluate and listen to what the people want. Even better, work with them to come with a compromise so that everyone feels heard. If it still isn’t working, maybe it is time to move on… ?
Amidst all of the blunders, turmoil, and resignations, the leader of the Scottish National Party, Nicola Sturgeon, has held strong and maintained excellent support from her followers. She has strongly represented the Scottish perspective on the issue (they overwhelmingly wanted to remain), and has even taken bold steps to protect the interests of the country. Though it is not clear whether Scotland would be allowed to remain if the UK exits, she has worked hard to be straight with her supporters, continue to lead with confidence, and effectively represent the interests her supporters have put forth. As a leader, the going can get tough. In times like these, it is important to know where you stand and move forward with decisive action, regardless of how hard it might be.
Leadership is a delicate art. Power can go to your head and cause you to make grave mistakes, or it can empower you to embody the role to the best of your ability. With practice, careful consideration, and a keen sense of what is going on around you, you can always succeed.
The outcome of Brexit has left the future uncertain… There are many things that could happen, but the true gravity of the situation is really unknown. You can see some of the potential impacts here and here… and it doesn’t look very good. All that is certain is that the process will take a lot of time and money, and may not really address any of the issues at play. Sorry UK, you can’t have your cake and eat it too…
What are your thoughts on Brexit? Do you think the leaders have acted responsibly?
This weeks’ article is written by Laura James. She recently completed her LL.B at Queen Mary University in London, England, which included studies in European Union law. She will be working towards a Master of Laws at the University of British Columbia this autumn, with an emphasis on environmental law and sustainable development, and regulatory compliance.