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Brexit: global reaction to Britain’s vote to leave the EU

Britain has woken up to a strange new world. Stefan Rousseau / PA Wire

The United Kingdom has voted by a close margin to leave the European Union. Here, experts from around the world react to the news which has sent shockwaves around the world and what it means for their country.


Frédérique Berrod, professor of public law, Sciences Po Strasbourg and Antoine Ullestad, PhD candidate in European law, University of Strasbourg

It’s no surprise that a sense of disaster dominated the French media’s reaction to news that the UK had voted for a Brexit, with many underlying the “winds of panic” and the “start of a real cataclysm” in the markets. While some papers spoke of the shock of the decision, others were not surprised, talking instead about how it marked a defeat for the European Union, described as “complete” by the columnist Laurent Joffin in the left-leaning Liberation newspaper.

The independent website Médiapart used a brilliant oxymoron, describing the decision as a “welcome catastrophe” and arguing that Brexit offers a unique opportunity for reform of the long-criticised EU. The result highlighted how the political class in France remains very divided over Europe. On one hand the Eurosceptics, led by the Front National’s Marine le Pen, have saluted the UK’s “clear lesson in democracy” and called for a similar referendum in France. On the other side, those politicians on the left who are in power, such as French foreign minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, want Europe to “react and find the confidence of its people”.

President François Hollande, after a cabinet meeting and talks with European Commission President Donald Tusk and his German counterpart Angela Merket, said the decision was “severely testing the European Union”.

The secretary of state for reform Thierry Mandon said: “The referendum [in France] is scheduled, it’s the presidential elections.” The European project will be at the heart of the 2017 race.

Questions dominate the coverage in the regional press – with papers wondering what the impact will be on French politics, whether the EU can survive a Brexit, and what will happen next – reflecting the gamble on which the future on the EU now lies.

Clément Louis Kolopp contributed to this section.

United States

Scott Lucas, professor of international politics, University of Birmingham

One consequence of Britain’s vote to leave the European Union will be damage to the US-UK “special relationship” that has been a pillar of Britain’s political, economic, and military strategy since 1945.

Brexit campaigners have insisted that the UK can easily replace its economic position within the EU with the primacy of links with the US. That assertion – whether from genuine belief or political manoeuvring – is misguided.

From the interlinked creation of NATO and the EU’s ancestors, such as the European Economic Community, to the support of Western Europe as a bulwark against Soviet Communism, America’s economic and political strategists have built their approach on a UK inside Europe, not detached from it.

The current US leadership has not been shy about reasserting this. To the contrary, the US president, Barack Obama, made clear in March that the UK would be at the “back of the queue” for trade deals if Brexit triumphed. Former high-level officials – used as channels for the views of those who now hold their positions – spoke of the negative effects not only on Britain’s economic future but on relationships within diplomatic, military, and intelligence partnerships.

What have your people done? Andy Rain/EPA

The US-UK relationship rests on institutions which prefer security and certainty. Given that the UK – which may not be “united” in the near future if Scotland departs – is entering a period of protracted insecurity and uncertainty, Washington will not be looking at “Independence Day” in England and Wales as an asset, but as a problem.

Daniel Chirot, Herbert J. Ellison professor of Russian and Eurasian studies, University of Washington

After the referendum, British opinion remains badly split. The typical “Leave” voter is similar to supporters of Donald Trump in the US and National Front voters in France. Xenophobic, angry nationalist and isolationist parties have been rising all over Europe.

This is the revolt of the losers who feel marginalised by globalisation. Perceptions of economic insecurity, unwelcome cultural change, intrusion of untraditional, foreign ideas, and a sense of national decline have produced a massive backlash against ruling establishments.

Sadly, the closure to the outside world they demand, if carried out, would plunge much of the world into economic depression and cause immense international conflict. We would be back in the 1930s, heading for disaster.

Alarmingly, the losers’ anger is also a revolt against the liberal Enlightenment values of tolerance and openness to progressive ideas that seemed, only 25 years ago, to finally have prevailed. Similar threats in the 20th century were ultimately reversed by the defeat of first fascism and then communism, but are now back.

Only reinvigorated economic growth, better protection for the inevitable losers of globalisation and greater sympathy for their frustrations can ease their anger. Establishment parties of the moderate right and left have failed to help. Unless they do, the crisis will continue to worsen. The referendum’s results solve nothing.


Isabelle Hertner, lecturer in German and European politics and society, University of Birmingham

In the early hours of June 24, when the results of the referendum were announced, German politicians maintained the same approach. The German Chancellor Angela Merkel, made only a short statement, calling the result a watershed moment for the process of European unification, and one that she personally regrets. At the same time, she warned against a kneejerk response to the referendum result, calling for calm and prudence in the EU’s dealings with the UK.

She acknowledged that across the whole of the EU, many citizens have doubts about greater European integration. “Therefore”, Merkel said, “we must ensure that the citizens feel that the EU can improve their lives. The EU is strong enough to find the right responses to today’s problems.” She added that it was now important for the 27 other member states to stand together and make sure that the EU finds a common solution.

There were few signs of complacency in German politicians’ reactions towards the vote. Many fear a domino effect, citing the example of Marine LePen, the leader of the French far-right Front National, who has now called for France to hold its own “Frexit” referendum.

In Germany, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), a Eurosceptic far-right populist party, is on the rise and predicted to win over five per cent of the votes and enter the Bundestag in the 2017 federal elections. Many German commentators fear the AfD and other similar parties across Europe will repeat UKIP’s electoral appeal, which is based on bundling up opposition to the EU with a strong anti-immigration stance.

For more on Germany’s reaction, click here.


Alexander Titov, lecturer in modern European history, Queen’s University Belfast

The reaction to the Leave victory in Russia, which was alleged to be in favour of Brexit, centred on the likely impact on its relations with the EU and the possible economic fallout.

The finance minister Anton Siluanov said that Brexit was likely to be less significant for Russia’s economy than shocks it has experienced over the past two years. Aleksei Kudrin, an ex-finance minister and influential adviser to President Vladimir Putin, tweeted that there won’t be an economic catastrophe, but both the EU and UK would be weaker economically in the long run.

Other Russian politicians have been less reserved in their reaction, with the nationalist-minded among them predicting that Brexit is only a start of the EU dissolution.

Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a firebrand leader of the main nationalist party in the Russian Duma, praised the Leave vote. “The people of Britain made the right choice – the rural, the working class of Britain said "no” to the union created by the financial mafia, the globalists and all others.“ He added: "Now we hope that Trump will win.”

Moderate politicians were more cautious in their reaction. Konstantin Kosachev, an influential chairman of the Federation Council’s (the upper chamber) committee for international affairs, said he hoped that Brexit would spur reforms to make the EU less politicised, more flexible and open to cooperation with international partners, including Russia. He also expressed concerns over possible economic fallout:

We have interest in the EU as a stable inter-generational project, because it’s still one of our biggest trade partners. 49% of Russia’s foreign trade is with the EU, and even under the sanctions regime it’s still significant. Any shock in such an important trade partner will impact our relations in a negative way.


Aleks Szczerbiak, professor of politics and contemporary European studies, University of Sussex

The British EU referendum result has raised a number of concerns in Poland. There is uncertainty about what will happen to 800,000 Poles currently working in the UK. There are concerns about what impact the UK’s exit will have on the EU budget, as Poland is currently the largest beneficiary of the EU’s regional funding. More broadly, there are concerns that the departure of the largest non-Eurozone member of the EU could marginalise Poland if power is increasingly concentrated among the states that are part of the single currency.

The current Polish government, led since autumn 2015 by the right-wing Law and Justice party (PiS), will also lose its key ally among the large EU states. The government has shifted away from the previous administration’s prioritisation of relations with Germany and has been trying to develop a strategic partnership with the UK. PiS sits in the same European Parliament group as the British Conservatives. It saw the UK as a natural ally given its shared stance on anti-federalism in the EU, and on particular issues of concern to Poland such as the EU’s relations with Russia.


Mark Beeson, professor of international politics, Murdoch University

As the world reacts to the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the significant and long-lasting economic damage that is likely to ensue will inevitably get most attention in the short term.

The rest of the EU will want to make life as difficult as possible for Britain to deter others from following in its wake. Young Britons looking to escape their insular, parochial and incredibly short-sighted and badly led homeland may need to look further afield than Europe.

The good news is that Australia might get a flood of applications from talented prospective citizens. The bad news is that Britain will be a diminished international force with limited capacity to play the sort of role some conservative commentators in this country fondly imagine. It is hardly a coincidence that those in Australia who want the country to become a republic have a renewed spring in their step as they consider political folly on an epic scale.


Dimitrios Giannoulopoulos, College Associate Dean, Brunel University London

Shock, disbelief and fear. This has been the initial Greek reaction to Brexit. This time a year ago the Greek referendum was being announced and the threat of “Grexit” loomed over Europe. The banks closed, capital controls were introduced and the socio-economic and political trauma continues to haunt people today.

The country was, however, beginning to have glimmers of hope that a period of stability lay ahead. Brexit will prove them wrong. It has opened a Pandora’s box, for Greece and for Europe. The impact on the Greek economy will be disastrous: between the 2009 global economic crisis and the post-Brexit crisis that is about to unleash its full force, the Greek economy has suffered terrible blows. To believe it will survive a protracted period of economic uncertainty in Europe is wishful thinking.

At least this time Greek politicians do not have any illusions. “The forecasts have been proven wrong. Hope has been denied. A great adventure begins,” said Giorgos Koumoutsakos, spokesperson for the Greek conservative party, New Democracy.

On a dark day like this, we can rejoice at least that not everyone has given up on Europe. MPs from many political parties in Greece are speaking with one voice, about the need to stop the march of populism, create barriers to nationalism and build new bridges to stop isolationism in Europe. They call for a new vision for Europe, and want to be part of it.

But a spokesperson for Greece’s right-wing fascist Golden Dawn party, congratulated the British people for saying no to the “German rulers of Europe” and “Brussels’ scavengers”.


Clément Jadot, PhD candidate, department of political science, Université Libre de Bruxelles

As fervent federalists, some Belgians may have occasionally dreamed that a Brexit would open a new window of opportunity for deeper and faster integration within Europe without the UK dragging its heels, but the truth is that all the major political parties were strongly supportive of Bremain. From a Belgian perspective, Brexit is bad news, both economically and politically.

Economically speaking, Belgium is an open economy, strongly bonded to the UK, and political elites fear stress on the banking market as well as a deterioration of the national trade balance as a consequence.

The referendum’s political consequences for Belgium are not straightforward. On the one hand, most of the country’s political parties will probably call for a common front in order to go beyond the shock and to push European integration forward, as did the prime minister Charles Michel this morning.

On the other hand, regional ambitions and populism in the north of the country will certainly be nourished by the Brexit vote, as well as in the rest of the EU. On a short term basis, the Flemish nationalists of the N-VA, will be the first to be impacted by the Brexit. With the departure of the British Conservatives from the EU bloc, they lose a strategic ally and an ideological model.

In the past, Belgium and the UK always looked very differently at the EU. Yet, because they are historical, political, strategic and economic allies, it is in their mutual interest that this friendship never ends.

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