The Brexit Syndrome and the Potential “Amexit”
Roberto Domínguez, PhD
Article originally published in the AMEI Bulletin No. 9.
The historic referendum in the United Kingdom produced a ripple effect not only in the stock markets around the world, but also in the like-minded political groups abroad. From Marine Le Pen to Donald Trump, the Brexit represented a victory of the people against the negative forces of the “foreign”, namely, globalization, integration or immigration. Beyond the June 23rd referendum and the coming UK-EU negotiations, the Brexit syndrome will remain on the electoral agenda in Europe and potentially will encourage political actors in other continents. In the United States, the Brexit syndrome could be translated in a US retrenchment and contestation of the process of globalization as well as on a relative isolationism. Rather than a single event, the “Amexit” would be a reorientation of US foreign policy resulting from the potential convergence of four elements in the coming November electoral process.
The first is the increasing popularity of local forces that blame immigration and deeper economic interdependence for all local problems. Nigel Farage and Donald Trump are leading voices of this approach. However, the Brexit or a potential “Amexit” cannot be explained without a second element: the dissatisfaction of liberal nationalists that believe in eventually accommodating immigration, but contest the unfairness of free trade policies, particularly for middle and lower incomes families. Jeremy Corbyn and Barnie Sanders have mesmerized one segment of their political parties that is skeptical about the effects of globalization.
The third factor is the miscalculation of the chameleonic positions of politicians that in electoral times blame the alphabet soup of NAFTA, TTIP, TTP or EU and once in office they embrace free trade as a solution to numerous economic problems. From Boris Johnson to Hilary Clinton and various US members of Congress, this approach may be ethically deplorable, but it has been quite useful to keep globalization active. The problem is that in the context of the Brexit syndrome, politicians under this view may miscalculate the demonization of free trade and become hostages of their electoral positions. Arguably, for instance, Boris Johnson campaigned for the “leave” in the Brexit consultation with the calculation that the UK would vote for “remain” in the EU and he would advance his political career.
The fourth element is the apathy of citizens to cast their vote. Data collected from the rainy June 23rd indicates that numerous segments of voters for the “remain” position took for granted the common sense of the majority and decided to stay dry at home observing the results on media. In contrast, the energetic campaign for “leave” emboldened and excited their followers to vote. Electoral apathy in US elections is a well-known phenomenon that varies, but eventually may favor active voters rather than actual majorities.
The Brexit Syndrome may be replicated in the United States if the four elements described above uncannily converged around the November elections in the United States. The truly dangerous risk is the spread of forces against the general trend of history, which is guided by inclusiveness and openness. Unlike the Brexit, the reverberation of an “Amexit” would affect not only the achievements of the Three Amigos in North America but also economic and security arrangements in Asia and Europe in the short and long runs. More importantly, the role the United States as a global leader of resilience, adaptation and innovation would be replaced by policies guided by excessive protectionism, fear, and eventual isolationism. It would be the adoption of an 18th Century mindset to address problems of the 21st. A potential “Amexit” would be simply against history.