Historically, Britain has been Euorsceptic, but that was based on the Anglo Saxon exceptionalism and imperial instinct in the past. After World War II, British foreign policy has been founded on the three circles of influence, the United States, Europe, and the Commonwealth and the rest of the world. Past Eurosceptics placed more emphasis on the Anglo-American special relationship and imperial legacies in the Commonwealth. But today, Brexiters hardly shares such grand strategy visions. They simply fear an immigration influx from the Continent and the impacts of the borderless economy. Such an inward-looking attitude is utterly incompatible with that of Margaret Thatcher who stood firmly against “German dominance” in Europe. Professor Niall Ferguson of Harvard University commented that both the Trump phenomenon and Brexit movements were populist backlashes against globalization after the 2008 financial crisis, in an interview with Australian ABC TV on May 18.
Certainly, Britain has a Common Law tradition, which is expected from those of Roman Law Continental Europe. However, Britain has not been isolated from Europe in history, and even the Splendid Isolation during the Victorian era is a sheer myth. Queen Victoria founded family blood networks with European monarchs and aristocrats through marriages of her children and grandchildren. Among them, Emperor “Kaiser” Wilhelm II of Germany and Empress consort Alexandra of Russia, are very well known. Typically, such sanguine ties helped a peaceful settlement of the Anglo-German colonial rivalry in East Africa, as Queen Victoria gave Mt. Kilimanjaro to Kaiser, while retaining Mt. Kenya under the British sovereignty in 1886. In a more globalized world today, Britain’s position as the bridgehead in Europe to the outside world has become increasingly important.
The negative impact of Brexit ranges from the economy to security. Economic losses are mentioned so much. As a consequence of a withdrawal from the common market, UK GDP would be 6.2% lower than it should be by 2030, according to JP Morgan (“Brexit could cost each Briton 45,000 pounds in lost wealth – JPMorgan”; Reuters; April 29, 2016). Also, consumer confidence would grow weaker. The Bank of England said that business was slowing because of the referendum uncertainty (“Brexit vote uncertainty erodes UK consumer, business confidence”; Reuters; April 29, 2016). But more fundamental and enduring damage to the British economy is a drastic cut of science research funds. Britain is the second largest recipient of EU science budget after Germany, which accounts for a quarter of its research spending (“UK will be ‘poor cousin’ of European science, Brexit study warns”; Financial Times; May 18, 2016). Since more populous emerging economies, such as China, India, Brazil, Nigeria, and Indonesia are rising, advantages in science is critical for Britain to compete in the global market. Brexit could ruin Britain’s economic base for the future.
Security implication of Brexit is no less significant. Britain is the only major European power that exceeds NATO requirement of 2% of GDP on defense. Also, Germany’s Basic Law precludes its proactive military role. Therefore, Europe’s self defense capability will be downgraded, if Britain leaves the EU. And it is not just fire power that matters. The more critical issue is intelligence. Britain shares information with the Anglo Saxon Five Eyes, including the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Continental Europe may not join this group, but Britain can provide security analyses for them, as long as it stays in the EU (“The Security Implications of Brexit”; Foregin Policy Association Blog; June 13, 2016).
Vice versa, EU membership helps British intelligence. At the parliamentary testimony this May, Former Chief of MI6 John Sawyer and former Director General of MI5 Jonathan Evans told that Brexit would weaken information sharing with Europe, and ultimately, the teamwork of counterterrorism with Continental partners (“Former British spy bosses say nation's exit from EU would pose threat”; Reuters; May 8, 2016). Retired US Army General David Petraeus shares their views as stated in his article to the Daily Telegraph (“Brexit would weaken the West’s war in terror”; Daily Telegraph; 26 March, 2016). Some British experts worry that common European defense would erode British sovereignty, and lead to German dominance (“It is an EU army that could ring about war”; Daily Telegraph; 27 May, 2016). However, Robin Niblett, Director of Chatham House argues that Britain uses EU venue to achieve national goals (“Britain, the EU and the Sovereignty Myth”; Chatham House; May 2016).
Hardly any Britain’s international partners want Brexit. The United States worry that Europe’s self defense capability will decline if Britain leaves the EU. If it happens, America has to assume more defense burden against Russia (“The US Has the Right to Argue for Remain”; Chatham House Expert Comment; 20 May, 2016). Also, Britain’s continual engagement with Europe helps America's military and intelligence partnership with the Trans-Atlantic and the Middle East regions (“Brexit Would Be a Further Blow to the Special Relationship”; Chatham House Expert Comment; 20 May, 2016). Germany also wants Britain to stay, because it needs a counterbalance against France (“Germany and Brexit: Berlin Has Everything To Lose if Britain Leaves”; Spiegel; June 11, 2016). British voters are too alert to Japanese-styled pacifist Germany today. Other major partners such as India, Japan, and even “anti-Western” China, want Britain to stay in the EU. It is only Putin’s Russia that wants Brexit to weaken the Trans-Atlantic alliance (“Putin Silently Hopes for Brexit to Hobble NATO”; News Week; June 10, 2016).
Brexiters say that Britain can negotiate the terms to win a more favorable deal with Europe, once leaving the EU. But former Prime Minister Tony Blair commented that new trade and labor movement deals with Europe would require lengthy and laborious negotiations, in an interview with CNN on April 25. See the video below.
Actually, if Britain were to negotiate the deal with Europe to set new relations after Brexit, everything must be done quickly. According to Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union, which was signed in Maastricht in 1992, only a two year negotiation period is guaranteed for a leaver to reset the relationship with the EU. Therefore, it is quite unlikely that Britain could win more favorable deals with Europe in such a constrained condition (“The seven blunders: Why Brexit would be harder than Brexiters think”; Centre for European Reform Insight; 28 April, 2016).
Anglo Saxon élites have led globalization, but ironically, the most formidable defiers to this world order are the working class on both sides of the Atlantic. Like Trump supporters in America, a Brexiter resorted to violence to kill Jo Cox MP (“Jo Cox MP dead after shooting attack”; BBC News; 16 June, 2016). Edmund Burke would have deplored as current Britain has fallen into a turmoil like revolutionary France in those days. But remainers are also to be criticized, as they fail to appeal positive aspects of EU membership, and just argue for status quo to deny Brexit. Therefore, Britain’s Gladstonian open and internationalist ideals are in danger (“E.U. Referendum Exposes Britain’s Political Decay”; Washington Post; June 10, 2016).That has made the referendum on June 23 increasingly confused.