Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Opinion: The “British Spring” Domino Effect | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A lot has been said about Britain’s shock exit and the effects that it will have on Europe and the world which are not limited to the small issues such as visas and customs. The map of the European continent and the Union, relations between member states and foreign alliances may change. For example, will the British uprising against the EU system ignite the desires of other restless European powers and change the political geography?

Dominos lean on each other. Change brings chaos and that is what we have learned even in the most stable and affluent regions. Separatist movements existed in Europe, but they retreated with the emergence of the Union. At the forefront of these is the Basque Country in Spain.

Will the unrest return? Will Scotland demand independence and end three hundred years of being part of the UK? Will the British-American role around the world come to an end? Will other major countries of the European Union withdraw from it and cause it to become weaker? Will the European Union collapse as a result of Britain’s exit? Will Russia take advantage of Britain’s exit and expand its influence in Europe? With the emergence of India and China’s economies, will Europe become weaker, especially in light of the movement in the US that is inclined towards Asia?

Just like earthquakes fissures, the effects of major events are not limited to the place where they occur. Britain’s decision to withdraw from the European Union may have effects elsewhere. It is a major and influential country in the Union and the continent, and its exit will leave a vacuum, the impact of which will be measured over the next few years.

When the British voted, almost half voted to stay in the EU. Most of them lived in big cities and were young. Those who wanted to leave the Union were made up of those living in rural areas and the elderly. In general, the British do not consider themselves Europeans very much, even though they were an important force within the Union and the continent. Historically, they feel closer to the Commonwealth system which currently consists of 53 states, most of which are former colonies of the British Empire. However, the Commonwealth has lost its significance and the relationships between the countries that are part of it are based on protocol.

Leaving Europe may be comforting to the British because it closes the door to immigrants from poorer European countries, but it will not stop illegal immigration. Leaving will also save the British EU membership costs but they will lose out on opportunities in huge neighbouring markets. Today, Britain is smaller than what it was last week; previously it was part of the four million square kilometres that is the European Union. Today, it has shrunk to about a quarter of a million square kilometres.

There is a risk that it will become smaller as those demanding Scotland’s independence vow that they will hold a referendum, gain independence and leave the United Kingdom in the next few years. Scotland’s area is 70,000 square kilometres which is about half the area of its neighbour England.

A short while ago we used to say that the disintegration of Britain was unlikely given its presence in the European Union, which has marginalized the separatist sentiments. However, its exit has awakened nostalgia amongst local groups that seek independence, even if that is at the expense of collective interests. Secession is not in favour of the Scots who do not number more than six million people. However, electoral referendums play on emotions more than they take into account the real interests of nations.

The domino effect does not stop here. Rather it threatens the circumstances that were formed after the end of World War II. Monitoring the way Russia deals with the British vacuum in Europe suggests this, and it will give us a clearer understanding of what its intentions for the near future may be. The American interest in getting closer to China and India will push the Russians to the west, towards Europe. Big Russian business interests with countries like Germany are being developed, and this may modify political alliances in Europe and affect its surroundings including the Middle East.

Britain’s exit has weakened the European equation in general, more than any other country could have done. However, there may be one positive aspect of it; it may correct the European Union’s political approach to other countries.

A politician from the Gulf said that they failed to conclude a collective agreement on petrochemicals because the Europeans involved political issues in the negotiations. Some believe that the European left is responsible for the crisis because they want to politically and bureaucratically control Europe.