The arguments, including immigration, sovereignty and economic concerns, that were used on both sides during the build-up to the U.K.’s referendum on leaving or staying in the European Union are the arguments that still and probably will always maintain their relevance for the U.K., Europe and the world. Therefore, it is of importance to elaborate on these arguments.
In the globalized world of goods, trade and thus, mutual dependency, attempting to set borders between states is not practical, realistic or beneficial for long-term relationships. Based on this perspective, the European Union is still a significant and successful power that affords great benefits for its member states. Nevertheless, one of the growing concerns that was underscored and constituted as one of the main arguments of the Leave campaign was that Brussels was infiltrating every little sphere of life in the U.K. with legislation that was made in Brussels. Former London Mayor Boris Johnson, who was one of the main figures in the Leave campaign, summarized this concern as follows: “We are seeing a slow and invisible process of legal colonization, as the EU infiltrates just about every area of public policy.” For the fifth-biggest economy in the world and a country that is proud of its democratic structures, it is understandable that a considerable amount of people have grown to dislike being affected by the rules and standards made in Brussels. As such, the argument of taking back control of the United Kingdom is one that has some legitimacy. Hearing this rightful concern, why would one want something that they would not want for themselves for undeveloped or developing countries? Unfortunately, while completely dismissing the social facts of most developing or underdeveloped countries that are outside the EU, we have seen a tendency of European countries to exercise pressure on other countries in terms of conformation with EU values, customs, laws and ways of life. The legitimacy of a country outside the EU has so far been to the extent that it conforms to the values, customs, laws and lifestyles of the EU. Sadly, the fact that there are differences stemming from religion, culture, traditions and of course political developments have not been considered or accepted. Instead, full compliance with however things are in Europe has been requested from countries outside the EU. Turkey’s ridiculously long chase for EU membership has most probably been due to the lack of appreciation that Turkey is different from Europe in terms of religion, cultures, traditions and level of social, political and economic welfare. One of the positives of this process has been that arguments on both sides have paved the way for critical reviews of the EU and the U.K.’s stance when it comes to issues outside of their borders. Imagine, the United Kingdom, which has so much in common with other European countries, still finds it unacceptable for an external body to tamper with its internal public policies. When this is the case, how can we justify the EU’s effort to shape Turkey, which has less commonalities simply because people in Turkey believe in a different religion, have different cultures and traditions and so on.
Why would the U.K. want something like infiltration into public policies for other countries that it will use as a reason to leave? Given this is a growing issue across the EU, why would it still expect Turkey to strip its values underpinned by people’s religion, culture and tradition as a prerequisite to commence certain chapters. Those in the EU probably know better than everyone that they had to go through some very tough times for some certain values and mentalities to settle in. Despite this, expecting Turkey to wear the EU hat in a second without taking into consideration the political, economic, social, educational, religious, cultural and security realities of Turkey is simple ignorance. Additionally, with the fifth-biggest economy in the world, which is one of the key players in the international arena, refusing to have Brussels tell it what to do, why can we not put ourselves in the shoes of the citizens of Middle Eastern countries when we hear rhetoric from EU leaders or U.S. officials on a regular basis that they are “closely watching the developments in certain countries with great concern.” How would EU or U.S. citizens feel if the situation were reversed. Most critically, when there is this level of sensitivity in the U.K. and U.S., why meddle with undeveloped or developing countries on a regular basis for some political and economic gains? Again, the argument of wanting to be sovereign and having control when it comes to domestic policies is correct, but this should apply to every state around the world.
As for the immigration argument that was used, abused and exploited throughout the campaign by both sides, to claim that it is not an issue would not be factual. However, immigration will continue to be an issue as long as current practices and foreign policies remain in place. The Brexit or further crumbling of the EU will not exempt the U.K. or EU countries from this problem. Unfortunately, during the campaign, the positive aspects of immigration on the U.K. and EU countries were never voiced as much as the downsides. One thing that is very clear is that the EU and the U.K. owe its cultural richness to the thriving diversity in their countries. For instance, English children are able to meet different cultures, if not all within their own countries, without having to go too far away. As a result, generations have grown up open-minded, aware, appreciative and tolerant of various cultures. This is what future generations need around the world for it to be a peaceful place for the human race. One thing that is forgotten is that none of us chooses where we are born. Therefore, claiming that a country only belongs to the indigenous people and so immigrants should go back to their countries is not an attitude that complies with the globalized and civilized nature of the world, but more importantly one that is against human values. It must be remembered that before one is English, Irish, Spanish, Kurdish or Turkish we are all human beings who happened to have been born in different territories. Therefore, having the attitude that some destitute people should never leave their war-torn and conflict-stricken countries or have to go back to the same countries no matter whether they are killed, tortured or bombed to pieces is one that is extremely selfish and ignorant, if not inhumane. How would, for example, U.K. Independence Party (UKIP) leader Nigel Farage feel if he was born in Syria and he was subjected to the arguments that he was making about migrants. He or others who have immigration at the heart of their campaigns may have some grounds, but a Syrian-born Nigel Farage would have wanted to leave his war-torn country and flee for a better life for himself and his family. The same would go for Geert Wilders, the far right, anti-immigration leader in the Netherlands, France’s Front National leader Marine Le Pen and other far-right leaders across Europe. They would do the same thing and seek refuge if they were born in Afghanistan and were subjected to violence on a daily basis.
Considering the fact that those leading the Leave campaign such as Johnson and Michael Gove were concerned about the EU’s economical future and so decided to quit before the EU ship sunk should normally better appreciate and understand that immigrants have fled and are still fleeing to EU countries because their countries are sinking. What the U.K. is doing is taking precautions and thus leaving what it sees as a deteriorating entity, before it gets too late. While this is the case, why is there this level of ignorance and carelessness concerning immigrants who are leaving their countries not because their economies are bad, but because there are no chances for survival? Additionally, there is a close link between sensitivity of sovereignty and immigration. It is unfortunate that the Western world plays a part, if not a key role, in the conflicts affecting developing and underdeveloped countries in one way or another. So, aside from telling developing and undeveloped countries what to do, the world sees the Western world’s direct intervention in these countries, which are far away from them. If the same level, or some level, of sensitivity to Brussels’s infiltration of the U.K.s public policies was adapted by the Western world in their dealings with other countries, migration would probably not have been such an issue or the number one agenda for U.S. presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump or other countries.
To reiterate, the arguments that underpinned the Brexit and Bremain campaigns are valid arguments. But these are arguments that will never lose their relevance just because the Leave campaign won. And as long as the sensitivity for sovereignty, tolerance and appreciation of diversity, different cultures and traditions fail to transcend the EU’s borders, the world will continue to experience issues that will spoil fellow Westerners comfort. We have got to think and ask if London has room for all people, religions, cultures, traditions and life styles and has places of worship for all beliefs, why the world, which is bigger than London, cannot have room for all people, religions, cultures, traditions and life styles. Why just confine these values to London or the EU? Why approach every country outside the EU with EU and U.K. realities?
* Analyst at Strategic Thinking Institute, Ankara