Government and governance, Trade and industry, International relations | The World

1 July 2016

By moving out of the European Union and away from a coalition approach to policy-making, the UK puts itself on the wrong side of history, writes Charlie Shandil.

So, 43 years into a troubled marriage, Britain has decided to exit the European Union – or Brexit – with 48.1 per cent voting to ‘Remain’ and 51.9 per cent voting to ‘Leave’ across an electorate of 46,501,241 people.

Overwhelmingly, younger people and white collar workers voted to remain in the EU; but as it transpired, they were the minority. The 23rd of June 2016 will be remembered as the day Britain chose the wrong side of history.

The ‘Leave’ vote was driven by nostalgia; the sepia-tinged, half-remembered sovereign UK of the baby boomers. They cast their votes based on the notion that if Britain were to leave the EU, it would allow the UK to move back to an era where the movement of people, trade and jobs was much simpler.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. In the years since joining the EU, the world has changed considerably, and with the rise of globalisation manifesting itself throughout each facet of an economy, there’s no turning back.

In the hours since the vote it has come to light that many voters did not realise what exactly they were voting for when they decided to leave the EU, or at the very least didn’t fully grasp the rippling effect of their vote. However, taking into account the smear and fear campaigns that successfully altered the electorate’s sentiment along with the demographic that decided Britain’s fate to leave the EU, it is clear that the longstanding argument for protectionism is one of the key foundations for the majority decision.

As such, the ‘Leave’ campaign marketed the idea that a divorce from the EU and return to more protectionist policies would lead to less migrants in the UK, more local jobs and generally a ‘better’ life for those in Britain. It was to promote the doctrine of protectionism; the view that by restraining the UK’s trade and movement between EU countries, it would protect businesses and workers within Britain.

Conversely, there is a general view among policymakers and the business community alike that globalisation’s impact on markets ultimately makes everyone better off. It is the notion that for each manufacturing job lost as a result of a new era of trade, the same, or even more, number of positions will become available within new and emerging sectors.

More on this: Brexit serves as a warning to ASEAN | Mathew Davies

However, while this may be true in aggregate, it cannot be applied to the individual blue-collar workers scattered throughout the UK who are being harmed due to the impact of globalisation. Thus, it is not difficult to see why this majority in the UK chose to kick out against globalisation; for those people the referendum offered a prospect to freeze, and even regress, the status quo to cloister them from economic disruption.

But as Robert Rubin argued, attempts at protectionism are often counterproductive. While mankind may be able to make some effort towards slowing globalisation, there is no stopping it; every facet of a national or global economy is intertwined with the benefits of a sovereign state embracing globalisation as it looks beyond borders to create a global community.

As much as it may be argued otherwise, the notion of sovereignty – over which some of the world’s most deadly wars were once fought – is becoming increasingly diluted due to globalisation. The definition of sovereignty itself is being questioned; the increasing ease of global movement and communication, makes putting such great emphasis on a line on a map an exercise that is increasingly redundant. As such, in a time where this new technological age is in its infancy, the sovereignty-system is evolving from a line on map to a border continuum. Henry Kissinger in World Order provides a contemporary perspective on the world’s current state:

The contemporary, now global Westphalian system – what colloquially is called the world community – has striven to curtail the anarchical nature of the world with an extensive network of international legal and organisational structures designed to foster open trade and a stable international financial system, establish accepted principles of resolving international disputes, and set limits on the conduct of wars when they occur.

The system of states now encompasses every culture and region.This is all a by-product of globalisation. Pfaller and Lerch (2005) define ‘globalisation’ as “…the process of increasing cross-border interactions and transactions in the economic and social spheres”. That is to say globalisation results in a decrease in the significance of borders, and thus the Westphalian system of sovereignty is being challenged as the world moves towards a more globalised state. Blatter (2001) extends this notion arguing that globalisation gives rise to new challenges, and that emerging transnational coalitions embody the potential for enormous transformation.

This complex version of global governance has enabled a less rigid structure to drive public policy outcomes, and has promoted agility as an enhanced feature of the global governance configuration. The EU is an example of where this evolution has taken “…Europe from the edge of catastrophe in two world wars to a world in which sovereignty is pooled across a growing number of common concerns”. According to Sabel and Zeitlin (2010), the EU’s cross-border success is a by-product of recursive rulemaking by national actors in wide-ranging policy areas. Despite the experimental origins out of which the EU arose ‘as a product of human action but not human design’ – to steal from Friedrich Hayek – the EU’s longstanding political capital and economic stability is a testament to its coalition history.

The reality of globalisation is that in order for one state to progress, there needs to be a shared cross-national approach to policymaking that leads to a coalition of states working towards collective outcomes. The unfortunate consequence of Brexit is that by moving out of the EU, and thus out of a coalition approach to policymaking, the UK will move backwards. The ramifications of this move will become apparent in the coming days, weeks, months and even years.

The notion that Brexit benefits anyone is fallacious. While the ‘Leave’ campaign have successfully moved the majority sentiment to their protectionist argument, the loss will be felt by blue-collar, white-collar, young and old alike. It will result in decreased marketisation and reduce Britain’s ability to compete globally; a legacy that will leave the next generation significantly worse off.

The Brexit vote will go down in history as one of the greatest mistakes made by the people of the United Kingdom, and David Cameron will be remembered as the leader who fought for the future of the UK; the leader who put his leadership on the line and lost, and put Britain on the wrong side of history.

This piece was written on 26 June 2016, in the immediate aftermath of the Brexit result

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Shandil, Charlie. 2016. "Brexit And The Wrong Side Of History - Policy Forum". Policy Forum.