With May 29, 2019—official deadline for Brexit negotiations with the European Union—looming large on the horizon, the UK looks set to face a political crisis not seen in recent history. The once much-touted economic prosperity and bonanza promised by leading Leave campaigners, including current prime minister Theresa May, seem to have lost appeal to British citizens, with uncertainties over reaching a deal with the EU after Britain officially leaves the alliance set to unsettle people living in Britain. On June 23, 2016 Britons chose to come out of the EU after a hard-fought campaign with razor-sharp margins dictating a difference of just over three percent between "Leave" and "Remain"— the Leave campaign came out victorious with 51.89 percent of votes against the 48.11 percent secured by the Remain campaign.
Now, one wonders as to what pushed UK—a long, powerful and, above all, trusted partner of the EU—to take a decision of such monumental significance. Delving deeper into the underlying grievances lurking in the Britons' minds for a long time provides a clearer picture of what drove them to the decision.
Among the many issues that have pushed the people of Britain to go as far as to move away from the EU are immigration, budgetary constraints and regulations imposed by the EU, capital movement and trade with the union that Britons think hardly benefited them. The hottest issue among these is immigration. The majority of voters who voted to leave were older, working-class people living in the English countryside, who fear adverse impacts immigrants could bring in their daily life. Why this “fear”?
Data regarding EU nationals living in the UK shows the extent of EU immigration: 3.8 million (61 percent) of the 6.2 million non-British nationals living in the UK in 2017 were from EU countries. Immigrants from EU countries such as Romania, Bulgaria, Latvia, etc. who came into the domain of EU roughly a decade ago swamped the UK labour market, resulting in massive pressure on healthcare and social welfare, and lower wages. Anger and resentment stemming from these key factors have been instrumental in driving the political discourse in favour of right-wing politicians waiting for the right moment to unleash their deadly cards employed by right-wingers across the world—stoking fear and fomenting anger.
As has been seen with many right-wing political parties across Europe and elsewhere, it is always easy to scare citizens about "others" and provoke anger about the “sought-after” positions immigrants have managed to carve out for themselves through their hard work and dedication than to provide real answers to problems, complexities and frustrations faced by citizens. Theresa May and her cohorts did the same when they campaigned vigorously for Brexit and employed every tool they had at their disposal to channel citizens' anger and frustration in that direction. While the benefits and boons that Britain would apparently be entitled to once it comes out of the EU were the mantras that Theresa May, Boris Johnson and co spurted out to their infuriated fellow Britons before the referendum, the Brexit process now appears to have become very unnerving and complicated, given the indecisions and disagreements among MPs of major political parties. Although Theresa May may have survived a no-confidence vote recently, her inability to get her negotiated deal, under which Britain's trading relationship would be determined with the EU, passed through parliament spells shock as a "no-deal Brexit" looms large which her opponents view as a betrayal on her part. The deal that Theresa May and her associates reached with the EU last year was blocked by MPs of all parties by a margin of 432 votes to 202. Then again, getting a particular Brexit deal passed through the parliament is not enough. The deal needs to be ratified by the European Parliament as well. Confronted with these unsettling issues, Britain is highly likely to move out of the EU without a deal on March 29, 2019 unless a spell of wizardry sways opinions in favour of a second referendum. A "no-deal" augers ill for British businesses (big and small alike), the nature of trading relations with the EU, and for British citizens working in EU countries.
With a possible deal negotiated by Theresa May with the EU in limbo, it is not just the citizens of other European countries living in the UK who are cheesed off with what has been unfolding before them in the form of Brexit; British citizens are worried as well given the fact that three million jobs in Britain depend on export to EU countries. The Institute of Fiscal Studies published a report on August 10, 2018 warning that the UK faced a very difficult choice. The list of uncertainties and fears that the UK would face after it moves out of the EU does not end there. The London School of Economics paints a grim picture of what could happen once Britain leaves the bloc it has been a part of for nearly five decades. Among the major crises Britain might face after Brexit are sky-rocketing food prices and shortage of food supplies. Meanwhile, employers warn of potential difficulty of finding adequate number of workers for a growing economy, which looks still likely to attract significant Foreign Direct Investment (FDI), the level of which can be gauged by the portion of global FDI of which Britain holds seven percent.
The sole option Britons are now left with is to rely on politicians and see what and how they decide to get their country out of this impasse unforeseen in the recent political history of their country.
Saiful Islam is a student of the Department of Political Science, University of Dhaka.