Will Europe tip back into fascist, mean enclaves?

The United Kingdom is eating itself up alive. The consequences for the world will be profound.

On Thursday the UK will vote in a referendum to decide whether to stay in the European Union or to opt out of the organisation of 28 member nations.

From here on the southern tip of Africa it may seem like a faraway debate, but it may have repercussions which will reach us sooner rather than later.

A “Leave” vote on Thursday will no doubt be devastating for the UK. Already, the pound has taken a beating against major currencies. Business is jittery. Business leaders and economists are predicting massive job losses and an economy that will stall.

There is however, another greater, danger. It is that a Brexit, as it is called, will lead to the break-up of the European Union and its tempering effect on Nazi-type radical nationalism, fascism and racism in Europe.

Already in France, the right-wing National Front leader Marine Le Pen continues to gain ground and is a serious contender for the presidency at the next election in 2017.

In Germany the racist, right-wing Alternative for Germany (AfD) has seen massive support in recent times by beating an anti-immigration drum.

In the UK the pressure for exiting the EU emanates from the right-wing anti-immigration UK Independence Party (Ukip) leader Nigel Farage, a man who has claimed that there is a higher risk of sex attacks by migrants if the UK stays in the EU.

On Friday Le Pen gave a fiery speech at a beer-swilling rally of European far-right “patriots” in Austria.

She claimed that by exiting the EU the UK would be “regaining its liberty, its freedom to trade with whom it pleases”.

Her message was eerily akin to the words of the man now accused of stabbing, shooting and killing Labour MP Jo Cox on Thursday in the UK.

In court on Saturday, accused Thomas Mair gave his name as “death to traitors, freedom for Britain”.

What does all this mean?

Europe is in danger of falling apart into tiny little fascist, nationalistic enclaves of the type that existed before the first and second world wars.

The UK itself may very well disintegrate: Scotland may want another referendum about leaving the UK, and then England and Wales will be left all alone while the Scottish tribe drifts away.

Politically, Britain’s governing Conservative Party is so divided over the issue it makes our ANC’s fissures look as sedate as the Queen’s summer garden party.

Already there is grave talk that whatever the result of this week’s referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron will face a revolt from within his own party.

Newspapers report darkly that Boris Johnson, the pro-Brexit former mayor of London, is preparing to “move” against Cameron after Thursday.

Daily Mail columnist Stephen Glover wrote: “I foresee months, if not years, of internecine warfare among Conservatives.”

How did the UK get to this point? How did it get to a situation where business leaders are warning that the UK faces economic meltdown if it decides to leave the EU while the “Brexiteers” warn that staying in means being controlled from Brussels while foreigners “flood” (that sounds familiar, doesn’t it?) the country?

Sadly, Cameron is to blame.

After negotiations with the European Union in 2013 and right-wing pressure, particularly from Farage’s strident anti-immigrant rantings, Cameron promised a referendum on staying in or out of the EU. He thought he could get away with a “sensible” result.

The gambit has blown up in his face and now the “Brexiteers” are on the rise.

Last week a poll for the Evening Standard newspaper showed that the campaign to leave Europe was gaining ground with 53% of Britons now wanting to leave and 47% wanting to stay in the EU.

What now?

The world is worried about the prospect of the UK turning its back on the EU and essentially the world.

Janet Yellen, chair of the US Federal Reserve, revealed last week that US interest rates were being held steady partly because of EU jitters.

“It is a decision that could have consequences for economic and financial conditions in global financial markets,” she said.

For me, former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown made the most salient point about what Brexit would mean. In the New Statesman magazine, he wrote: “Each of the EU’s 28 member states has abolished capital punishment, tightened gun control laws and championed human rights… We are united by a belief that foreign policy is not just an exercise in protecting interests but also about advancing ideals… But now this set of beliefs is under fire.”

Thursday’s Brexit vote may change the global political architecture in fundamental ways. An EU without the UK may tip the world back to the fascistic, mean, dangerous political waters of the 1930s.

We will feel the effects – through trade, diplomacy and other ways – here in South Africa.

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