Mon | Sep 25, 2017

Oliver-Leighton Barrett | Busted EU makes Trump's wall more likely

Published:Sunday | June 26, 2016 | 6:00 AM
Britain's UKIP party leader Nigel Farage smiles as he poses for photos carrying a newspaper outside his home in Downe, Britain, before voting in the EU referendum last Thursday.

Depending on which side you were supporting, June 24, 2016 was either Britain's finest hour or a 21st-century Dunkirk.

On that morning, Britain's nationalistic impulse prevailed over a slow-to-form multinational spirit that proved to be far weaker than most ever thought. By choosing to slap the hands of Brussels-based bureaucrats off the helm off HMS Great Britain, the Brits have set a precedent that other populations across the European Union (EU) - and even ones in the American federation - may very well follow. Have Boris Johnson and the 17 million people who followed his lead inflicted a massive hole into the wall that, until June 24, 2016, held back surging nationalism?

Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany characterised the exit vote as a "turning point for Europe" and "a turning point for the European unification process". But might the outcome also be a harbinger of a coming and monumental pivoting away from the globalisation process?

With this vote, the unthinkable becomes far more thinkable - and even doable - for populations across Europe and the United States who feel they've come out on the losing side of the globalisation proposition.

With this vote, Britain has now made it less indecent for states (and their anti-globalisation, anti-immigration political factions) to advance and intensify conversations centred on putting the brakes on free trade, open-arm immigration, and other defining features of globalisation.

With this vote, an entity originally devised and established as a war-prevention mechanism is now spiritually at its weakest point since the march towards integration began more than 70 years ago.

With this vote, Russian President V. Putin smiles knowing that his upstart, but potent ideological peer competitor to the West (the supranational European state) has just had its confidence knocked out of it.

But, most important, with this vote, the aspiration for a more open, prosperous and homogeneous global society will be more vigorously tested by demagogues and right-of-centre factions across the world that can now look to the UK for inspiration.

Further, European and American voters might come to the conclusion, as the Brits did, that their national aches and pains, such as protracted unemployment, refugee inflows, and terror attacks can be better solved in their respective nations' capitals than by uber-educated elites operating out of elaborately decorated meeting chambers in distant cities.

For sure, even if the causal links between the shortcomings of globalisation and the economic pain of individual citizens are statistically frail, the isolationist political mood - to varying degrees a backlash to globalisation - might prove hard to contain in the coming months and years.

Lastly, the presumptive American Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, celebrated the decision of British citizens to "take their country back" and linked the campaign to his own quest for the US presidency. He remarked that the exit result goes to show how "angry" voters on both sides of the Atlantic are with the status quo.

Mr Trump might be right, and if the vote on June 24 proves to be the beginning of a trend, Mr Trump just might get this wall.

- Retired Lieutenant Commander Oliver-Leighton Barrett, US Navy, is a contributing writer for Foreign Policy Association, with published articles on fragile states, climate change and emerging diplomacy and defence issues. He resides in Miami, Florida. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and oliverbarrett@janusadvisoryinc.com.