WASHINGTON, June 29, 2016 — On June 23, the United Kingdom surprised the world by voting to leave the European Union. Brexit, a portmanteau for “British exit,” took the U.K. out of the EU via public referendum.
Shia Rights Watch is particularly concerned with what Brexit means for the Middle East and for minorities across the U.K. and Europe.
Of particular concern to SRW are the xenophobic roots of Brexit support. Fearful generalizations of Islam and Muslims helped push a nation to turn its back on thousands of people literally dying to be there. The Independent observed “It’s disconcerting to live in the Middle East at a time when Arabs die in the thousands to reach it and Britain commits monetary suicide to leave it”.
Scholars have proposed that Brexit, led by England’s political right, may push the country rightward in future policy debates. It may also encourage racist xenophobia in the near term.
In fact, after the vote was announced, a series of racist acts ignited across Britain. These were directed at immigrants. Prior to the vote, the leading right party of Britain, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) created a billboard ad with a photograph of crowds of refugees waiting in Europe and the slogan “Breaking Point”. It echoed popular opinion that Britain is “full” and that Arab refugees are a danger to the nation.
If Britain gives in to intolerance and nativist sentiments, there will only be an increase in the possibility for extremism, especially considering British Muslims largely voted to remain.
Brexit will make the U.K. no longer party to the Dublin regulation. While part of the European Union, Britain could have deported asylum seekers to their first point of entry in a member state. For some, this could create an incentive to cross the channel. The U.K. has used this provision to deport over 12,000 people since 2003, and has lobbied against reform.
There are concerns that Brexit will effect both Britain’s the EU’s long term policy toward the Middle East. Britain may turn inward to focus on issues directly effecting the country, such as terrorism and refugees. This would raise roadblocks to a Middle East peace process in a post Brexit world.
An EU without Britain, which has the highest military expenditure in Europe and colonial ties to the Middle East, especially in majority Shia countries such and Iraq and Iran, could lead to less effective missions in Syria. Because the U.K. is a link to the United States in many U.S.-EU coalitions, European actions toward the Middle East could be fundamentally transformed.
Whether the U.K. will remain with the European Convention on Human Rights or repeal the Human Rights Act to create a new U.K. bill of rights has come into question. The ECHR is an international court based from France that protects a variety of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. The HRA ensures these ECHR rights are contained in British laws.
A complete withdrawal from the ECHR would deprive people in the U.K. from the possibility of bringing their human rights complaints to the ECHR. However, it would not relieve the U.K. of the duty to comply with judgments already handed down by the court, for instance on prisoner voting.
Nevertheless, the U.K. would set a poor example on the protection of human rights. Human rights in Europe as a whole might suffer, and minority rights could be at risk. Whether either of these contracts will be repealed is currently up in the air. For all that is known now, minorities across Europe have expressed anxious worries over what their future in a U.K.-less UE will look like.