Well, it has happened at last. After about four and a half decades of griping, the UK’s voters have taken the option given by their government and chosen to quit the European Union. The reasons have not got to do with the realities of politics or economics, but with old-fashioned racism– the EU was letting in too many refugees, who would end up in the UK.

Ever since the EU was formed, as the EEC (European Economic Community) back in 1957, the UK was seen as a potential member. However, when it did apply in the MacMillan government, in January 1963, French President Charles de Gaulle imposed a veto. The UK only entered when de Gaulle had left office, in 1972. There was a referendum in 1975, which approved membership, but the UK had always been uneasy. For example, it refused to allow its pound to be replaced by the euro, the new currency which swept away such historically famous currencies as the mark ,the franc and the lira.

One of the problems that the UK seems to have had is that it had no longer a balancing role in Europe, but was in Europe. That it joined the EU was an economic decision; that it left was not. That is shown by the immediate drop in the pound, and in stocks. George Soros, the currency speculator, pointed out in a pre-poll article that the Bank of England could not lower interest rates to stimulate the economy, because they were already close to zero, and couldn’t be lowered any further. This was probably the wrong time for a Brexit. Indeed, Prime Minister David Cameron is being faulted for having the referendum at all.

This brings us to two important dimensions of the vote. First, the fate of David Cameron. The vote against remaining has meant he has to resign. He will have to be replaced by a Tory who was an enthusiastic leaver. The outgoing Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, has almost smoothly dropped into the slot, and is fast acquiring an air of inevitability. However, though Cameron has resigned, the process of replacing him will take until October.

Meanwhile, the Labour Party may well drop Jeremy Corbyn. Only Nigel Farage of the pro-Leave Independence Party seems unchallenged.
Second, the vote itself. Superficially, it seems the essence of democracy: that the people decide. There is also the argument that referenda are rendered redundant by the existence of an elected legislature, which is after all supposed to represent the people. These representatives are supposed to decide. That’s why they were elected. But the need to hold a referendum shows that these representatives could not claim to speak for the people.

One analysis said that the vote for Brexit was cast by Conservatives, who had forced an ‘old man’s choice’ on the UK, a sort of nostalgic vote, for an era when the UK had an Empire. Incidentally, when the original debate occurred, the Empire, or rather the Commonwealth, was the great counterweight to Europe. That counterweight now is no longer there, even though the Commonwealth is. The pound may have once been an international currency, but now it no longer really is, having been definitively replaced by the US dollar. The euro may well have become a new international currency, but the UK stayed out of it.

Another dimension to Brexit has been raised by among others, Sadiq Khan, the new Mayor of London. He noted that London had voted to remain. He hinted at London opting to remain in the EU. It should be noted that Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales had all voted to remain in the EU. All are areas where there is a separate local government headed by a First Minister, and the Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has called for a referendum which would take Scotland out of the UK, and would allow it to join the EU. There has already been a movement sparked for the unification of Ireland, thus taking Northern Ireland out of the UK, and into Eire, which is already an EU member.

While the referendum might signal the break-up of the UK, as various parts scramble to find a means of staying in the EU, it might signal the break-up of the EU itself. After all, Brexit represents the first departure from the EU, joining which is so desirable. However, other members seem poised to join in. Troublingly enough, the list includes France. Again, the reason is not economic, but racist. Syrian refugees fleeing the war in their country are more numerous than those fleeing Subsaharan Africa across the Mediterranean into Italy. However, from Italy, they go to France, being from Francophone countries. After France, there would probably be no point in an EU, which brought together France and Germany. Without France, it is unlikely that Germany alone can hold the EU together.

Spain was almost a symbol of the cracks showing up. First, it was blindingly fast to ask for the return of Gibraltar, then it had an election of its own, which set the stage for a Spanish exit. Then, like Scotland, a Spanish region, Catalunia, wants to stay in the EU. It would go for independence.

The role of the EU in helping France and Germany bury past differences was often held up as an example to India and Pakistan. SARC was supposed to serve as the EEC for South Asia. If the EU cannot sustain this shock, SAARC would look even less promising than it does. SAARC has a particular resonance, for all its members except Afghanistan were part of the British Empire, and all have important diasporic populations there.

Apart from the Pakistani diaspora in the UK, there are also the trade ties. Pakistan had only just obtained GSP status from the EU, mainly because of the British connection. While Pakistan will now have to negotiate a separate trade agreement with the UK, it will have to re-negotiate all its trade agreements with the EU.

Perhaps the real issue for a lot of Brexit supporters was the resultant delinking from the Schengen area, which is something that Pakistan will have to negotiate. One effect of the UK allowing free movement of people within the EU, though not formally in the Schengen area, was the growth of Pakistani diasporas in Schengen countries. Even though the UK may leave the EU, those diasporas will remain.

It is almost as if the UK has opted for a mirage of empire. Once the UK was great, with a sprawling empire covering a quarter of the globe, but two world wars in the 20th century left it unable to sustain it. Perhaps the biggest loss the UK may suffer from Brexit is to the special relationship it has always had with the USA. The USA valued the additional access it got to Europe through the UK, and some of that has been lost. An era might well begin where the EU might be more antagonistic to the USA, at the very time when they will be drawn closer through the Trans Pacific Partnership accord, with the UK not being a part. The UK has spent so long in the EU that it will take years to leave. But the EU itself has shown little hesitation about wanting the UK to make a quick break, perhaps so that they can pay attention to keeping the EU together. Like 9/11, Brexit is a seminal event which will have consequences for decades to come. No wonder there is a petition for a referendum to reverse the result.