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U of T experts on Brexit results: “This is a disaster”

A stock broker in Frankfurt reacts to the referendum results (Thomas Lohnes photo/Getty Images)

Randall Hansen: “The Leave campaign was founded on lies”

The United Kingdom has voted by a 52-48 percent margin to leave the European Union after a divisive, often bitter campaign. U of T News will be updating this article through the day with insights from a wide range of experts.

We begin with Randall Hansen, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto's Munk School of Global Affairs and an internationally renowned expert on European affairs. Hansen is in England covering the "Brexit" campaign but he spoke with U of T News reporter Terry Lavender by email.

Were you surprised by the results?

I was: surprised because of the polls and saddened by the result.  But it has to be respected and Britain will leave the EU.

What does this vote mean for Europe?

It’s the greatest challenge to the EU since its inception. France and Germany (perhaps with Poland) will have to agree on a common position quickly, and make that the anchor of a common European response.

What does it mean for the United Kingdom?

It is a disaster. Economically, it will be poorer. Investment and businesses will leave the UK. Scotland will likely leave the Union. And politically it will be affected by decision in the EU without being able to shape those decisions.

What does it mean for Canada and the rest of the world?

We’re all paying a price in lower stock valuations. Canada has lost a great friend in the EU, and the world will lose a liberal voice in the European Union. The results also please some of the most loathsome political characters on the  planet: Putin, Le Pen, and Trump.

Could this cause a domino effect, with other countries also exiting or pressing for concessions to avoid an exit?

Possibly some of the smaller countries: Denmark or the Czech Republic, conceivably Sweden (though I doubt it). France will not allow a referendum unless Front National wins. The EU has been damaged, but I think it will pull closer together in response to this awful shock.

​Are public referenda a good way to decide such issues?

They are not. They are the favourite tools of demagogues, as we have seen. They divide families and countries. This one was a farce: the Leave campaign was founded on lies about the cost of the EU, the capacity of Britain to control immigration outside the EU, and the UK’s capacity to negotiate trade deals with other countries. Leave also crossed the finish line with a healthy dose of racism.


U of T News reporter Arthur Kaptainis spoke with Peter Pauly, professor of economics at U of T's Rotman School of Management.

“This is a sad day for the UK, the European Union and the world as a whole,” said Pauly, who has served as an advisor to the United Nations, World Bank and other international organizations. “The disruption of trade and capital flows as well as the destruction of asset values will be extremely costly for the entire world economy.

“It is a victory of xenophobic fear over rational decision-making.

“ A globalizing world‎ requires openness, not disengagement from your partners. The political implications are incalculable, and the long-term economic costs will be borne by the young who overwhelmingly favoured to remain part of the EU.”


Terry Lavender also spoke with Ato QuaysonUniversity Professor and director, Centre for Diaspora and Transnational Studies at the University of Toronto. Quayson said the referendum's outcome raises a number of concerns including UK scholars' ability to receive funding from the European Research Council – which “can only spell an impending crisis for research in the social sciences and humanities”.

And he had this to say about the impact of anti-immigration sentiments:

In terms of the anti-immigration platform on which the Leave campaign was run, it must first be understood that the original impetus was to protest against the increasing number of Eastern Europeans (especially from Poland) who had come to work and settle in the UK over the past decade.

These Europeans have completely changed the character of pubs in London, for example, where you are very likely to be served by an Eastern European rather than the standard British man or woman. All the major clothes stores in central London are manned by Europeans; Zara in Oxford Street, for example, is full of Spanish and Italians. 

In the last couple of years political debate  at Westminster has centred on the mischievous category of the "welfare migrant", typically imagined as Romanian gypsies who might want to come and drain the healthcare system.

The already existing anti-European immigration sentiment was only exacerbated by the rise of Syrian refugees, and it was this new category of refugees that gave legitimacy to expressing anti-immigration sentiments in general.  

To put it another way, the British have had long-standing anxieties about being drowned in a tide of immigrants, whether from the EU or elsewhere. 


U of T News reporter Veronica Zaretski spoke with Professor Mel Cappe, the former High Commissioner for Canada to the United Kingdom and former Clerk of the Privy Council.

A professor in the School of Public Policy and Governance at U of T and coordinator of the undergraduate program in public policy, Cappe had this to say about:

David Cameron

He didn’t have to do this – he did it for very little gain in the election and he did it to bring the conservative party together, but it ended up only dividing the party and the country. It was irresponsible.

The impact on Canadian trade 

The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Europe will likely still proceed though we lost one of our major allies, and one of the reasons we wanted to go in was because Britain was our major trading partner. 

The political impact beyond England

The sub-national governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland will now be put at play as to whether they should be subject to England leaving the European Union. This is going to call into question the united part of the United Kingdom. 

There’s a danger of course that once you unleash the forces of nationalism they are uncontrollable, and they may have wide reach for Catalonia in Spain but also potentially for Quebec. 

The result of the Brexit vote is an indicator of an anti-globalization sentiment. People who are disadvantaged and feel that they lost control of their future feel like they can gain control. But a normal country in a modern world is subject to multilateral relationships, Canada is subject to all of these relationships as well. 

Becoming internal-looking is not a way of being a normal country. 


U of T News reporter Romi Levine spoke with Faculty of Arts & Science history professor Robert Bothwell, an expert in international Relations at U of T’s Munk School of Global Affairs

Here’s what Bothwell had to say Brexit’s impact in Europe and Canada.

Trouble ahead:

Obviously everybody is going to run around and pretend that everything can be managed in a normal way. They’d be right to say it’s not the end of the world but I’m afraid the Brits are in for a very rude awakening and it’s just the beginning of their troubles. 
 
Impact on the Commonwealth:

Where the commonwealth is concerned – I don’t think it’ll have much impact except if the United Kingdom disintegrates – and there’s quite a good chance of that. Then that will have some impact on the structure of the commonwealth. Sooner or later the commonwealth will disappear and this might be the occasion. 

Impact on Canadian economy:

I think it affects us more politically than it does economically. 

If you look at trade and investment, what happens in the UK doesn’t hugely affect Canada – it’s not our major preoccupation – and that’s true of the world in general. 

There will be some readjustment because obviously it’s a huge blow to London as a financial centre... but does it really matter to Canada if the business is done in London or Frankfurt? I’m pretty certain in the future it’ll be in Frankfurt.  

Impact on Canada’s interests:

If this is a blow to European stability – and if this decreases the coherence or esprit de corps of the European union – then that’s bad for us – we want stability in Europe and we want the European market to be as in tact as possible. We are very aware that the other side of Europe is Vladimir 
Putin who must be absolutely thrilled at this news. 

It’s very much in Canada’s interest to have a stable European partner that will be impervious to Putin and his brand of Russian expansionism.

Financial markets:

I think things will right themselves in terms of financial markets – there will be a new level but it won’t take too long for it to stabilize. The pound is an independent currency so it doesn’t directly affect the euro and the Eurozone.

Foreign investment:

Companies that have or were about to build in the UK will not do so – I think that’s absolutely certain.


Noreen Ahmed-Ullah spoke with Phil Triadafilopoulos, associate professor of political science at U of T Scarborough and the School of Public Policy and Governance. Triadafilopoulos said "disappointment and sadness" were his initial reactions to the results.

"The EU was established to rein in nationalism in Europe.  Paradoxically, it has done precisely the opposite in Britain."

Triadafilopoulos also commented on: 

The potential impact on the rest of Europe: 

That will depend on the terms of the breakup, arrived at through negotiations. The EU faces something of quandary here: A hard line that strips British citizens of the rights to freedom of movement that they enjoyed as EU citizens may dissuade publics in other EU states from backing their own future “leave” campaigns, as the loss of visa free travel and labour mobility will hit a section of British citizens quite hard.  

At the same time, taking a softer touch may lead to concessions on the part of the British, such that some forms of visa free migration between Britain and the EU continue (this would be good for EU citizens who depend on access to Britain for their jobs, say in finance).  

The role of xenophobia and the migrant crisis:

Immigration became the defining issue on the leave side in the last days of the campaign. This reflects concern over the consequences of immigration, with respect to both labour market competition and matters of identity. The dream of ever deeper political integration in Europe is on the back foot; it may be done altogether. 

A very old debate over how best to make rules – and who should make them – is well underway across the Euro-Atlantic region. Modern politics relies on some balance between expertise and the will of the people expressed through democratic channels. The Brexit campaign and referendum result demonstrate that this balance has been upset by the discrediting of experts and elites at the EU level and beyond.  

My fear is that we are veering too far toward a politics of sloganeering and anger. That can be dangerous.


Terry Lavender also spoke with Assistant Professor Carolina de Miguel Moyer. The political expert who teaches European and European Union politics spent much of the day giving interviews to media at the CBC, CTV and other outlets but by late afternoon she was able to share some reflections on the story that had the world in its grip.

A divided society: 

The results show that there are pronounced generational, geographical and class divides within British society. Those who voted leave are a sector of society that has been hit hard by the global financial crisis and more generally by the process of deindustrialization linked to globalization. 

They are the older, less educated, and working class sectors of society. Their economic insecurity and their mistrust in the political class to solve their problems have been exploited by the leave campaign, which has turned the EU into the scapegoat for all their problems. 

Those who voted remain were the “winners” of globalization: young, highly educated and mobile citizens.

 Mistrust in the political class:

Interestingly, I think what we have seen in Britain is very much a reflection of political trends throughout Europe – and even in the United States – that are a response to the uneven recovery from the economic crisis. There is an anti-establishment spectre haunting Europe. There is mistrust in the political class, due to their inability to listen to people’s economic worries.  Some political parties have taken advantage of this climate of mistrust to revive a worrisome nationalistic discourse with racist undertones.

The rise of extreme right euroskeptic parties:

The outcome of this referendum is a dramatic historical moment that has serious implications for the project of European integration. More immediately, the results of this referendum could fuel the flames of extreme right euroskeptic parties that are already on the rise all over Europe. The rise of these parties could make it especially difficult for the European Union to effectively deal with its two other most pressing crises: the Greek crisis and the migrant crisis.

More generally, this outcome creates an incipient crisis of legitimacy within the EU. The former president of the Commission, Jose Manual Barroso, once said in an interview [paraphrase]: the EU is the first non-imperial empire. By this he meant that the exceptionality of the EU lies in its ability to unite very diverse states not by military force but by political and economic success. The British exit is unprecedented in the history of the European Union and to a certain extent it has put into question the legitimacy and the efficacy of this Union. 

Room for hope

On an optimistic note however, I think that in the long run the European Union might be better off without the UK playing its historical role of putting a halt on ever closer union.

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