The UK is on the cusp of making the biggest decision of this generation — a decision that will shape the future of the country for decades to come.
On Thursday, the British public will decide whether they want to leave or remain in the European Union.
The EU referendum will inevitably determine the future of the UK for generations, but the decision will have a ripple effect that extends far beyond European shores.
A “Brexit,” (which John Oliver helpfully explained should not be confused with an unappetising breakfast bar) will have far-reaching consequences the world over, affecting the global economy, environmental policy and how countries respond to the biggest refugee crisis since the World War II.
Here are 5 reasons why people everywhere should care about Brexit.
Britain is the fifth largest economy in the world
Any dramatic change in the British economy will have a significant impact on global markets. The Remain campaign argues that a Brexit would have devastating consequences, damaging the nation’s relationship with its biggest export market — about 45% of UK exports go to the EU.
Those pushing to leave refute this and claim that leaving the EU will open the UK up to more trading opportunities with rising economies like India and China.
What is clear is that if the fifth-largest economy in the world chooses to leave the EU, the global economy will feel the aftermath. Forecasters fear the UK will be plunged into recession if it votes to leave, creating a knock-on effect worldwide. The recent fluctuations in the stock market as polls shifted between Leave and Remain are evidence of the disruption that could be caused on a global scale in the event of a Brexit.
Immigration, diversity and travel
Much of the debate on the EU referendum has centred on the issue of immigration. At points, the rhetoric has been condemned as “xenophobic,” fostering resentment and a fear of outsiders. Parties on both sides claim they can control and cut immigration levels, yet a fundamental principle of the EU is the free movement of people. The debate therefore raises important questions on how nations should respond to the pressures and potential of multiculturalism in an increasingly mobile world.
But this is not simply about the number of people moving to Britain. What about all the people who leave Britain to work or travel? Over 15,000 British students a year take part in an Erasmus scheme — an EU-wide study exchange allowing young people to experience a new culture and develop their language skills while completing their degree. While a Brexit may alleviate anxieties about immigration, it could come at a cultural cost as opportunities to study, work and travel in Europe diminish.
The refugee crisis
Europe is currently facing its biggest refugee crisis since the World War II. Over a million refugees arrived on European shores in 2015.
But the refugee crisis is not just a European problem. The Kenyan government recently announced it will be closing the world’s largest refugee camp, with a population of over 300,000 refugees. On World Refugee Day (June 20), the UN revealed that the number of refugees has reached unprecedented levels. There are now 65 million displaced people in the world today. UN Secretary General described this as not only a ‘crisis in numbers’ but a crisis ‘in solidarity.’ The decision to leave or remain in the EU will certainly affect how the UK responds to the global refugee crisis - will the country firm up its borders or show solidarity to those in need?
Tackling climate change
Several environmentalist organisations have declared their support for remaining in the EU, including Friends of the Earth, The Wildlife Trust and Greenpeace. These outspoken groups argue that EU regulations have improved standards on air and water pollution, waste management, recycling and wildlife conservation. The UK government recently enshrined a zero-carbon target into law - a goal that the nation will need to uphold, whatever the public decide on Thursday. However, what’s clear is that the EU played an instrumental role in orchestrating the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, a crucial victory for the future of the planet.
In 2012, the EU was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. Marking over 60 years of peace between EU member states, the prize recognised the EU’s contribution to “the advancement of peace and reconciliation, democracy and human rights in Europe” and its work in “transforming most of Europe from a continent of war into a continent of peace.” In the face of global terrorism, many fear a Brexit could jeopardise pan-European security efforts. The EU may be far from perfect, but built on the ideals of peace and cooperation, it has been a stabilising force on the global stage.
Whether the UK votes leave or remain, this is a decision that will have consequences the world over. The debates have been fiercely divided, with both sides claiming to appeal to both “head and heart,” weighing up economic benefits and risks, raising questions on national identity, and pointing to the past as well as the future. As the nation heads to the polling booths, it's important to remember this is not only a vote on the kind of country we want to be, but also on the kind of world we want to see.