The British Exit from the EU: The Implications for Decolonizing, Decoupling and Restructuring of the State System
By Priye S. Torulagha
Following the outcome of the British referendum which favored a decision to quit the European Union, most analysts tend to comment on the financial and economic consequences of the decision. However, it should be acknowledged that apart from the financial and economic consequences that are likely to take place, it is also necessary to critically examine the potential political implications of the decision on the current state system in the world.
Thus, the British electoral decision to exit from the European Union (EU) has far-reaching political implications for the current state system in the world. The reason is that Britain is one of the major European countries that have shaped the present political world order through centuries of military conquest and colonization of territories in various continents. It should be noted that Belgium, Britain, France, Germany, Netherland, Portugal, and Spain were responsible for conquering and carving the world, starting from the 15th century, into most of the countries that exist today. This means that a vast majority of the developing countries, with the exception of a few, owe their existence to the aforementioned European countries. Likewise, entities like Scotland, Wales, North Ireland, Kurdistan, Basque, Caucasus, and so on and so forth, tend to suffer from political conditions that are akin to colonial subjugation, hence, are also likely to be affected by the British decision in a remarkable manner.
Concerning the present state system, Britain, France, and Spain have been very insistent on maintaining the status quo since the current world order maximizes their global strategic advantage, following the fact that most developing countries were established by them. This accounted for why political and legal efforts made by many ethnic, political, regional, territorial and religious groups in Africa, Asia, the Americas, Europe, and the Middle East to break away from the colonially arranged states have not been successful. As a result, only very few countries have been restructured since the former European colonies gained independence. The failure to restructure the former colonies implies that many ethnic, regional, territorial and political groups in the current state system are still beholden to the colonial system that was imposed on them by force.
However, it seems that the British decision to leave the European Union might change global attitudes toward the current state system, thereby, enabling groups that have been trying to exit from the colonially imposed states to do so. The reason is that as soon as British citizens felt that the EU. was no longer satisfying their interest, they decided to leave the organization. Obviously, if the citizens of the former British Empire decided voluntarily to divorce themselves from a political arrangement that infringes upon their sovereignty, they cannot turn around to oppose or deny others from also freeing themselves from political arrangements that suffocate them. Thus, the British departure from the EU could lead to the following consequences or implications:
- A probable global change of attitude can lead to the restructuring of the current state system. The reason is that the British decision to exit the EU could result in the germination of the idea that it is perfectly acceptable for disaffected countries, ethnic groups, regions, territories and political entities to quit any global or regional organization or country and forge a new political path through a referendum. In this regard, the British exit from the EU could technically neutralize the importance of the sovereignty principle with regards to the territorial integrity of states in the current world system. Consequently, countries like Scotland and Wales and Northern Ireland could decide to leave the United Kingdom. Similarly, disaffected ethnic groups could decide to leave Angola, Cameroon, China, Iraq, Kenya, Nigeria, Russia, Spain, Syria, Turkey, Uganda, and so on and so forth. This implies that the Kurds, for example, might decide to leave Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey to form an independent Kurdish state. Following the same logic, the Basques could reenergize their effort to gain independence or some degree of autonomy from Spain.
- Obviously, now that a majority of U.K. citizens have voted to leave the European Union, citizens of other European countries that have contemplated leaving the EU but did not have the political courage to do so could follow the British model and use a referendum to decide whether to vacate the continental union or not. Thus, if one or two influential European countries follow the British and leave the European Union, the organization could become less relevant. A politically disintegrated Europe can lead to the reawakening of ethnic nationalism, thereby, ushering in another period in European history of uncontrollable rivalry among European states. Already, Britons who favor separation from EU have started to warn immigrants to leave the UK and go back to their own countries. As a result, immigrants in the country are becoming restless, fearful that British nationalism could lead to violence against them. It should not be forgotten that undue nationalism and rivalry among hegemonic European powers contributed to the eruption of the First and Second world wars. Thus, the British action can revive age-old nationalism and rivalry among European people. The EU is tactically intended to tame the beast and enable Europeans to work together, instead of hating and competing to gain power
- Having taken a momentous decision to leave the EU, the United Kingdom could set itself up for dissolution in the nearest future. This is quite possible, considering the fact that British citizens in Scotland and Northern Ireland favored remaining in the EU while those in England and Wales favored breaking away. The division in perspective about the EU means that strategically, the United Kingdom is no longer a monolithic political entity regarding the management of European affairs. This could prompt the Scottish and Irish people to conduct referenda in their territories with the aim of determining whether they should continue to remain in the UK or break away and become independent countries so that they can continue their membership in the European Union.
- If the Scottish and Irish people were to break away from the UK, the political leaders of the U.K. would not be able to persuasively argue against the separation. After all, the U.K. itself decided to break away from the EU when it opted to do so. In other words, the UK will lack the moral, political and legal justification to dissuade its component parts from exiting the kingdom after it had decided to exit from the European Union.
- If the Scottish and Irish people were to take such a step, tremendous pressure would be put on the Welsh to seek separation from England and become an independent country too. If that were to take place, it would mean that the United Kingdom might have accidently set in motion by exiting from the E.U., a political dynamic that dramatically changes the current state system that has the potential of dissolving itself as a sovereign state.
- Assuming that the United Kingdom ceases to exist following the departure of Scotland and Northern Ireland, many ethnic, regional, territorial, political and religious groups in the world, particularly in the developing world, might also demand the dissolution of the countries that were forcefully incorporated through British colonialism. They are likely to argue that they were incorporated into the existing states in Africa, Asia, the Americas, and the Middle East against their natural and human rights to exercise political independence in their own territories. In this case, the Shiites in Saudi Arabia and Iraq, Igbos, Ijaws, Efiks/Ibibios, and Yorubas in Nigeria, Western Cameroonians, Masais in Kenya and Tanzania, the Acholi people in Uganda, the Aborigines in Australia and New Zealand, and so on and so forth, could decide to exit from the countries which were former British colonies.
- Following the political situation in the UK, If ethnic, political, regional, territorial and religious groups in former British colonies were to demand their separation from the existing states in which they find themselves, it would automatically generate political movement on the part of ethnic, political, regional, territorial and religious groups in former Belgian, Dutch, French, Portuguese and Spanish colonies to seek independence from the current states in which they are placed after having been forcefully incorporated during the colonial period. Following such a political and legal movement, various dissatisfied groups in Iraq, Syria, Mali, Central African Republic, Rwanda, New Zealand, French Polynesia, Indonesia, Tibet, Native America and so on so forth, might demand separation from the existing political arrangements.
- Such a development could put tremendous pressure on the United Nations to redefine those aspects of international laws which deal with sovereign rights of states. It might also put pressure on the world body to minimize its opposition to various groups that have been demanding to break away from the colonially-arranged states in which they have been forced to identify with. It should be noted that before the British voted to leave the European Union, it was generally the case that three of the five permanent members in the Security Council of the United Nations, including the United States, Britain and France, strategically opposed the dismantling of the current state system. On the other hand, Russia and China were more inclined toward dismantling the state system that originated from colonialism. Similarly, the General Assembly of the United Nations too had generally supported the maintenance of the status quo. Likewise, regional organizations too have generally tended to favor the status quo, fearful that the restructuring of the colonially-induced states could lead to unmanageable conflicts among various groups.
- By taking the action it took, the United Kingdom, one of the major architects of the colonial system that resulted in the current state system in the world, has taken a major political step that could lead to the dismantling of the world order which it helped to establish. Having voluntarily joined the European Union, it found itself suffocating and decided to quit the union. If a former imperial power voluntarily joined a regional or a continental organization and later decided to quit, then nothing can stop various ethnic, political, regional, territorial and religious groups that were forced through colonialism to become parts of certain countries to seek separation and become independent nations.
- Evidently, from now on, political and military leaders of various developing countries might increasingly find it difficult to use “national security” and “territorial integrity” as justifiable reasons to unnecessarily clamp down on groups that demand separation or secession. The reason is that these leaders are ruling over countries that were militarily imposed on various groups that constitute them. If the United Kingdom, an architect of the colonial system decides to free itself from an association which it voluntarily joined, then groups that were forced through military conquest to join political arrangements that infringe on their rights cannot be compelled to continue to remain under such oppressive arrangements. One possible way to defuse the potential pressure that might build up in most developing countries and some parts of Europe, following the UK decision to quit the EU, is for political and military leaders of the former colonial entities to quickly organize national conferences or hold referenda to restructure the existing states and make them palatable to those groups that are bent on leaving the colonial arrangements and establish their own independent states. Already, the Nigerian political leadership is feeling the pressure to restructure the country by adopting the recommendations of the National Conference which was organized in 2014. The Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), the Niger Delta Avengers and other groups in the Niger Delta are calling for a referendum to decide the fate of the country. Dr. Bello Oboko, an advocate for resource control in the Niger Delta, has joined the list of individuals calling on President Muhammadu Buhari to follow the example of Prime Minister David Cameron of UK by organizing a referendum to decide the fate of Nigeria.
- The decision of British Prime Minister David Cameron to vacate the prime minister position, following the electoral defeat of his position to remain in the E.U., is going to put pressure on many political leaders in the world to follow his exemplary example and vacate their positions if they suffer electoral defeat on major national policy issues. In particular, many Third World leaders in Africa, Asia, Middle East, South America and the Caribbean could face increasing pressure to respect the political will of their citizens on important national issues. It could be said that Mr. Cameron has set the ball rolling to embolden citizens in countries where the political leaders have a tendency to remain in power endlessly to fight politically and legally to remove such leaders from power. Therefore, countries like Angola, Burundi, Cameroon, Congo Brazzaville, the Arab Gulf states, Brunei, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Rwanda, Uganda, Zimbabwe, China, etc. could face tremendous pressure to respect the rights and will of their citizens and make appropriate changes to their political systems.
Political Rebellion against the Establishment
- Apart from the political implications that might affect the state system, the electoral victory of British citizens who preferred separation from the EU could be interpreted as a kind of a political rebellion against the ruling elite in the United Kingdom. It should be recalled that before the referendum, the British political elite, including Prime Minister David Cameron, strongly believed that a majority of the U.K. voters would vote to remain in the European Union. Similarly, President Barack Obama of the United States too was also convinced that the British people would vote to remain in the E.U. Despite the rosy predictions, the voters decided to terminate membership in the regional organization. The British reaction against the political establishment is increasingly becoming a norm in the world as citizens in the middle and lower classes get frustrated with their political elites who have created political systems that emasculate the politically voiceless while unduly rewarding the elites in society. This is why in almost every country in the world today, a tiny percentage of the population controls or owns most of the wealth of the countries while a vast majority of the populations are increasingly being rendered poorer. It is the perceived injustice and unfairness in the distribution of national resources that is driving the masses to vote for non-establishment political candidates in many countries. Hence, Mr. Donald Trump, the non-establishment candidate of the Republican Party in the United States of America won the party’s presidential primary elections against the establishment candidates of the party.
- It could also be said that the outcome of the British referendum was greatly influenced by perceptions on the part of the citizens that they were losing control of their country as immigrants and refugees pour into Europe in an uncontrollable manner. Thus, by voting to exit from the E.U., those British citizens who voted for separation assumed that they would be able to exert control over who to let in and who not to let into their country, rather than allowing the EU to make the decision for them. Indeed, There is a sizable number of people in UK and other European countries who believe that the EU is usurping the powers of their countries to make substantive decisions about immigration, hence, a majority British citizens voted to leave the union. This This sentiment can also be detected in the United States. It is this sentiment that has enabled Mr. Donald Trump to sail through the Republican Party’s primary elections by promising to put a hold on immigrants from certain parts of the world coming into the United States.
- As the negative financial and economic consequences begin to take effect, following the mammoth decision to leave the European Union, some British citizens who supported the decision to leave the union are now confessing that they were not fully informed of the financial, economic and political consequences of the decision they took. As a result, to minimize the negative impact of the decision, some of them are now suggesting that the electoral decision should be rescinded to allow the UK to still remain in the EU. The suggestion is comparable to the concept of “medicine after death.” It is of no use to prescribe medicine to a patient who has already passed away. In other words, it is too late to reverse course after the deed has been done. The genie has been released from the bottle and the British people must now prepare to absorb the consequences of their decision. Perhaps, to punish the British, the EU is putting pressure on the UK to expedite the process of departure.
- Indeed, the confession by some British citizens of the lack of awareness of the potential negative consequences of their decision to opt out of EU reinforces the view that in almost every country in the world, there is a tendency for serious public policy issues to be overly simplified by those advocating various positions during elections. In particular, political parties, politicians, interest groups and the media have a tendency to present complex public policy issues in a manner that only propagates their specific points of interest without allowing the public to comprehend both the positive and negative consequences that might take place if a particular action is taken. Therefore, it is assumable that before the referendum, British politicians, civic society organizations and those individuals who favored or opposed the EU intentionally provided only what they wanted the public to hear. As a result, many citizens who voted to exit from the EU did so based on partial knowledge of the potential implications that might take place if they vote a certain way. A day after the referendum, suddenly, everyone in the UK seems bewildered about what happened. The British experience is similar to what happened in Nigerian before and after the March 28, 2015 presidential election. Before the election, the main opposition party, the All Progressive Congress (APC) promised heaven and earth to the Nigerian electorate, using highly simplified snapshots of what it intends to do. Based on the promises, the incumbent president and the ruling party, the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), were defeated and removed from power. Now that the APC is in power, many Nigerians are bewildered about what happened.
Whether knowingly or not, the British people have, by their electoral decision to leave the European Union, stirred the hornet’s nest in the current world system. They have set in motion a political action that could lead to the decoupling and restructuring of the global political system. This means that people in disaffected countries are now going to be more justified and driven in putting pressure on their political leaders to conduct a referendum or a plebiscite in order to determine whether the citizens remain or leave their present states of citizenship. On the other hand, the potential negative consequences on the financial and economic systems in Britain, after its departure from the EU, is likely to dissuade a considerable number of citizens in some countries that have been thinking about leaving their regional organizations to think more deeply about the consequences before taking action. The lesson is that while some countries and regional organizations might break up, others might be strengthened due to the fear that a break up might cause too much damage.