On the morning of 24th June 2016, we awoke to a Europe divided. After a bitterly fought campaign on the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland’s continuing membership of the European Union, the British people have decided to leave. The Brexit vote carried 51.9% to 48.1% in a referendum that saw a huge turnout of over 70%.
Rather than building bridges across the continent, Britain has decided to burn them and turn its back on a project seeking to bring peace and prosperity to Europe. Immigration has undoubtedly played a central part in this debate. But by succumbing to the fear mongering of the British press and leading politicians, the UK has presented itself as an inward looking and unwelcoming place to seek refuge or a better life for those from other countries. The large number of non-British European citizens resident in the UK must awake today contemplating their future, fearful of what it may hold.
The vote has opened a dangerous regional divide across the country. While England and Wales carried the leave vote, Northern Ireland and Scotland opted to remain. The consequences of this on the integrity of the UK could be devastating, risking peace in Ireland and the disintegration of Britain. What’s more, jobs will inevitably be lost and incomes hit as the restructuring that takes place following such a momentous vote plays out. Brexiters have generally been those at the bottom of the pile, left behind by the political establishment and economic growth. For their sake, one hopes their choice will not come back to haunt them.
In the Netherlands, a place that has a long history of economic and cultural exchange with Britain, talk of a ‘Nexit’ has been circulating for months and will only be bolstered by the result in the UK. The risk of the Netherlands following in British footsteps is a real and dangerous one. The potential exit of a founding member of the European Union would cut at the heart of the European project.
Nevertheless, there remains hope in such a bleak day. The European Union can and should continue after a Brexit. The UK has for a long time held back the process of continuing integration, stalling the completion of a monetary union or blocking further defence cooperation. Far from being mortally wounded, a Brexit could bolster the EU, gaining strength by losing the burden of a reluctant member. The UK has decided its future remains outside of Europe, but for the Continent the time is now to build a Europe that works for them.