Brexit would affect the Middle East and the rest of the world negatively

Best that can be said is that already ungovernable world would become even more difficult to manage.

Middle East could do without Brexit

2016/06/19 Issue: 61 Page: 3

The Arab Weekly
Francis Ghilès

The Middle East hardly seems to figure as important in the increasingly ill-tem­pered campaign that leads up to the referendum in which British voters will decide whether they wish their country to stay in or leave the European Union.

The debate swirls around loss of sovereignty, large flows of illegal immigration and refugees as well as the economic gains or losses that come with being in or out of the European Union, but increasingly resembles a civil war inside the ruling Conservative Party. As lies, more lies and personal insults are traded, the countries on the southern and eastern rim of the Mediterranean and beyond in the Gulf hardly get a mention.

To the extent that the wars ongoing in the Middle East fuel the flow of refugees, many of whom are desperately trying to get into the European Union, one could argue that the region offers ample fodder with which the Brexit leaders say Britain has lost its sovereignty, not least control over its own frontiers.

The bloody mayhem that has descended on the Middle East since Arab revolts began in 2011 plays directly into the anti-estab­lishment revolt that is becoming increasingly characteristic of countries across the European Union. This revolt in which right-wing parties in Austria, Germany, France and Britain play an important role, increasingly fears the Other, who if he is painted as a Muslim religious fanatic or a black drug criminal appeals to older, poorer and often unemployed whites.

Racist stereotypes work well at this level even though the recent election of a Muslim as mayor of London suggests that in areas of full employment, high standards of cosmopolitan living, racial and religious stereotypes carry less appeal.

The election of Sadiq Khan to run London points to the break­down in traditional Right/Left political divides. Those who favour Brexit are raising legiti­mate questions that deserve to be aired but those who are leading the campaign to get Britain out of the European Union play on every fear they can think of — fear of the elite, fear of wealthy people, fear of Muslims, fear of gay people — the list is endless.

Beyond such considerations, a British exit from the European Union would affect the Middle East and Turkey and, of course, Europe because it would encour­age the euroscepticism, which is riding high in France, Holland and Austria. Pessimists think it might break up the union. At the very least, it will hugely increase uncertainty about the course of events in the world’s largest trading bloc, with which Middle East countries have multiple ties of trade and investment.

Uncertainty about Britain affects the value of the British pound and the multiple links London, by far Europe’s largest financial centre, has with bankers and insurers across the European Union and beyond, in the Middle East, the United States and Asia. Uncertainty could have serious economic repercussions in a world where growth remains frag­ile.

Britain is, with France, the only nuclear power in Europe and home to an experienced army. Any EU intervention, if only to try to control the flood of illegal immigrants attempting to cross the Mediterranean from Libya, has to be coordinated with NATO. A vote for Brexit would compli­cate an already very complex international situation. In no way would it stop the close coordina­tion between security forces and the armies of countries that bestride the English Channel. Needless to say, a vote for Brexit would delight Vladimir Putin, who has successfully challenged EU and US power and influence to shape events in Syria and Ukraine.

International investors hate nothing more than uncertainty but so do policy planners, not least in the military. A Brexit vote, which is not binding on the prime minister in British law, would no doubt be followed by a major crisis in the Conservative Party, if not the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron. In such circumstances, Scotland might decide it wanted to leave the union and an acrimonious negotiation with the European Union would further complicate international relations.

This would rebound on the Middle East as on Europe and Britain’s relations across the world, not only in the Middle East. The best that can be said is that an already ungovernable world would become even more difficult to manage. The Middle East could do without a Brexit.

Francis Ghilès is an associate fellow at the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs.

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