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Immigrants, Refugees, and Foreign Policy: What Brexit has to do with the Arab World

posted on: Jun 27, 2016

Nigel Farage who led the Leave vote

BY: Julia Kassem/Contributing Writer

Voters who opted for Britain to leave the European Union Thursday have, in other words, voted for a British Exit, or “Brexit.” Those that opted to leave the European Union won with 51.9% of the vote, over the 48.1% that voted to remain. Brexiters cited their motivations for an exit present in the belief that Britain was stifled by stipulations in commerce and membership fees from the Union. For little in return, Brexiters argued Britain was oppressed by an intergovernmental agency that mitigated the character of its own nation.

The economic collapses of Ukraine and Greece were embedded into the reasons for leaving the EU, causing strong nationalist sentiment to set the tone for many Brits, asserting that the United Kingdom should not be responsible for their recoveries.

Leading the rivalries side were cross-party groups: Britain Stronger in Europe and Vote Leave, which was backed by Senior Conservatives Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. Prime Minister David Cameron, an advocate of remaining in the Union, joined sixteen members of the PM’s cabinet, as well as the Labour Party, SNP, Plaid Cymru, and the Lib Dems, in swaying the UK to remain.

Provoked by economic collapse and the global refugee crisis that have fanned the flames of working class right-wing discontent, uber nationalist sentiment and adverse attitudes towards immigration have been ways of manifesting social and economic disenchantment.

Billboards from the UKIP party in preparation of the upcoming election played into the typically working-class insecurities. One billboard juxtaposes an average Brit on a bus en route to work with a British flag and a caption that reads, “Your daily grind…” followed by the other half of the poster boasting a tuxedo clad EU exec finishing the idea off with “…funds his celebrity lifestyle.”


Others that were featured included a large hand on a white background, finger pointed towards the reader proclaiming, “26 million people in Europe are looking for work.” Asks the billboard to the reader, “And whose jobs are they after?”


Nigel Farage, having been a mouthpiece for the anti-immigration rhetoric of the Leave movement, has done little to hide his disdain for immigration in the past. Having blamed immigrants for the inefficiency of Britain’s M4 motorway in the past, Farage said the presence of refugees threatened Britain’s security as the inflammatory Ukip posters were being distributed.

Brexiters argue that defining clearer borders will give the nation some insulation against Islamic State supporters able to travel unhinged across EU states. However, the UK is now disadvantaged in its ability to share and communicate counterterrorism intelligence information with EU member states.

For a nation with a history connoted to colonization, the xenophobic motivations behind backing Brexit are quite ironic. Britain’s colonial history is not only ironic; historically, British imperialism, along with its military strength and geopolitical network, also hold significant implications in shaping its foreign policy.

All countries/territories once colonized by the British Empire

Exiting the European Union is a demonstration of the confidence Brexiters have in proving Britain’s intransigence as a world power because of its isolationist move, rather than in spite of it. The decision is an attempt to affirm political power, perhaps not strategically, but symbolically.

Many economic cases against the exit insist that Britain will be reduced to economic rubble should they decide to leave the EU; the pound will fall, triggering a cycle of economic downturn. One of the main arguments against Brexit is that the secession of trade from the European Union would sever British trade with the EU bloc, and further contribute to the devastation of its economy. Realistically, though, it is not likely that the import/export partnerships between Britain and its neighbors over staple goods is going away any time soon.

Moreover, the Middle East North Africa (MENA) region will remain important to Britain as a region of investment and trade-estimated at $18 billion in 2014. Britain’s economic and political partnerships with the Gulf region are not projected to go away any time soon, with military cooperations between Britain and its allies, such as the GCC and Jordan, are maintained. Its coalitions and friendships with other major nations such as the U.S. and France will remain intact, unsullied by the complications of a partnership with the entire EU.

With Britain relatively occupied with the EU since its initiation into the union, this exit sever has left the Kingdom with a lack of direction for foreign policy in many other respects. Though endowed with a new frontier for diplomatic and economic flexibility, a Britain that has to define a new set of economic cooperative agreements for itself will struggle to establish bilateral trade negotiations on its own.

As for economic trade, perhaps the EU will have to orient its efforts more in concert to its allies in the Middle East, but the rise of the nationalist, Conservative voice that has been at the forefront of Brexit brings implications that are perhaps more destructive than cooperative. A more hawkish foreign policy, no short of air strikes and harsh counterterrorism measures, can oftentimes aggravate, rather than alleviate, problems of terrorism and provide fuel for extremist recruitment.

If other nations are to follow in Britain’s footsteps, it could bring about a total collapse of the EU, and its more humanitarian approach to foreign policy that garners respect from other parts of the world. Furthmore, nations leaving the EU could have catastrophic effects on trade with outside nations, the status of Syrian refugees hoping for asylum or refuge in Europe, and the Israel-Palestine conflict, in which many European leaders have taken cause for a solution.

Among Brexit ranks are a multitude of working class, disenfranchised, and angry Brits. This is not unlike the status of the Arab Springers of 2011. It also shares similarities with the profile of the young, single, and poor Arab male economic migrant that is the object of European uber-nationalist contention. Though some anti-immigrant rhetoric may demonstrate that fingers are pointed in the wrong direction; ultimately, both the Brexiters and the immigrants they so fear can share the same antipathy towards a status quo that has duly disserviced them.