What will happen to Britain if it exits the EU?

Now that exiting the EU is a real possibility, the talk is about analyzing the consequences

Abdulrahman al-Rashed

Published: Updated:

Not many expected that the referendum that will be held in 10 days to decide whether Britain should leave the European Union (EU) would turn into a nightmare. Previous expectations were that a massive majority supported remaining in the union. However, recent polls reveal a larger tendency to reject British membership.

The EU is a complicated model of regional cooperation. It consists of 28 countries whose peoples speak 24 languages. This makes translation in the EU capital Brussels a popular profession, as everything that happens must be translated.

The number of EU citizens is 500 million, and its size - slightly more than 4 million kilometers squared - is almost that of Algeria and Saudi Arabia combined. The EU is one of the richest economies in the world, as per-capita income is high.

Britain’s relation with it has been unstable from the start. A look at a map is enough to explain why. Britain is an island off mainland Europe. In 1963, then-French President Charles De Gaulle vetoed British membership, angering Britons because when he was wanted by the Germans during their occupation of France, Britain provided him with all the help needed to liberate his country.

Ten years after his veto, Britain entered the EU. Despite that, however, British governments did not want all the membership benefits, and refused to comply with all its conditions. Britain requested certain exceptions for itself, such as not giving up sterling as its currency. It also has an opt-out from the Schengen border-free area. Despite these exceptions, some in Britain do not feel comfortable being in the EU.

Britain’s exit, if it does not destroy the EU, will encourage other countries to leave

Abdulrahman al-Rashed


When the British government decided to hold a referendum on the issue, it may not have imagined that the movement against remaining would reach a majority. Those who oppose membership have gone far in intimidating people over issues such as immigration, the government’s financial commitments toward the EU, and taxes, just like U.S. presidential candidate Donald Trump does by exploiting fears about Latino and Muslim immigrants.

Now that exiting the EU is a real possibility, the talk is about analyzing the consequences. Will the British economy - the eighth largest in the world - decline? Will the sterling depreciate? Will the country become less important internationally? Britain plays an important role in the EU, which it will lose the second it leaves. This will weaken its global status.

Those who support leaving, however, say Britain’s situation will be better because it will not have to spend on the EU and will not be inundated with refugees, thus allowing the country to seal bilateral deals that suit it. These promises seem unrealistic in a world that depends a lot on economic blocs. There will be negative repercussions, political and economic. Britain’s exit, if it does not destroy the EU, will encourage other countries to leave.

The union, as a conglomerate of people and a united market, is very important. However, it remains a group of countries whose domestic circumstances will influence them politically and economically. This will negatively affect the EU, like what happened with Spain and Greece.

Not all countries want to be in the union. Denmark withdrew, and Iceland decided to suspend membership negotiations. Several countries have not been allowed to join. Turkey, a small part of which is in Europe, has repeatedly demanded membership, but the EU thinks it is democratically immature. Britain’s exit, if it happens, will change the path of the continent and the country’s future.

This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Jun. 14, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.