What Brexit means for the 2016 Elections

Donald Trump has already seized upon it as a sign of things to come in America


Late last night, in a shocking decision, the British population voted in a referendum to terminate their membership in the European Union.

With all votes counted, the “Leave” campaign has tallied 51.9 percent of the vote to 48.1 percent for the “Remain” campaign. The decision is already wreaking havoc in financial markets, with the British pound dropping as much as 11 percent overnight with no signs of stopping soon. As of now, the British pound has descended to its lowest levels in 31 years, and experts warn that this could be the worst day in the history of British currency.

In addition to a volatile pound, Brexit is causing massive financial market upheaval, with stock markets around the world crashing precipitously in response to the uncertainty surrounding England’s flight from the EU. While Brexit will not take effect immediately, the implications of one of the strongest economies in the largest free-trade agreement in the country fleeing from the very foundation of that accord are monumental.

But politically, this decision is just as momentous. With the decision, current British prime minister David Cameron, who campaigned vigorously for Britain to remain in the EU, has already declared his intention to resign as prime minister, citing the need for “fresh leadership”. This leaves former London mayor and staunch Leave supporter Boris Johnson, a hugely controversial figure in British politics for his strict nationalism, as one of the frontrunners for prime minister.

Boris Johnson vs David Cameron

Boris Johnson vs David Cameron

The impact of Brexit is bound to reverberate throughout the world, particularly in the 2016 United States presidential election. In many ways, the British Leave campaign and the insurgent campaign of Donald Trump are just different, or perhaps not so different, reactions to the same sentiment. Both are nationalist calls from an angry electorate to protect against immigration and globalization which, accurately or not, have been blamed for stagnant wages and unemployment, particularly amongst white working-class men. With the Leave campaign emerging victorious from the referendum, voters should have two major takeaways for the presidential election here in the US.

Populism works

Leave campaigner Nigel Farage

Leave campaigner Nigel Farage

By succeeding as a definitively non-establishment campaign in Britain, the Leave campaign shows Donald Trump supporters that his campaign, despite being opposed by almost all political and financial elites, is still capable of winning the election. The Leave campaign, which was opposed by the leaders of the major left and right-wing parties in England, David Cameron of the Conservative Party, and Jeremy Corbyn of the Labour Party, demonstrates that a massive democratic political movement still has the power to upset the status quo. Even though the purely democratic Brexit referendum differs from the U.S. presidential election, it still signals to American voters that their voices can still be heard despite the opposition of party elites. In an election cycle in which Donald Trump has railed savagely against the “establishment” and alienated many leaders of the Republican Party, this result ought to embolden his supporters to soldier on.

Nationalist sentiment runs deep

A European Union flag lies in the mud by The Other Stage at Glastonbury Festival, Pilton, Somerset. 24 June 2016. See story SWBREXIT.

Just like Donald Trump, the Leave campaign adhered to a strong nationalist, anti-immigrant platform. In his first official comments since the referendum passed, Boris Johnson spoke of a “glorious opportunity” in which Britain “can pass [its] laws and set [its] taxes entirely according to the needs of the UK economy”. He also derided those who “play politics” with immigration, and has spoken in the past of the need for a more restrictive immigration policy within England to stem the tide of mass migration. He particularly has stoked fears about the possible accession of Turkey, a majority Muslim country, into the EU.

Donald Trump’s rhetoric regarding the United States mirrors the rhetoric of Johnson. His campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” and repeated calls for America to “come first” stir patriotic zeal in his supporters, and his proposals to build a wall along the Mexican-American border and temporary ban Muslims from immigrating into the country have pandered to American fears about mass migration. With the openly nationalistic Leave campaign succeeding in Britain, Trump supporters will feel confident that their America-first sentiment has the political clout to swing the election.

Where do we go from here?

Controversial, and historically so, Brexit will undoubtedly be a talking point for the rest of the election season in the US. Donald Trump has already seized upon Brexit as a sign of things to come in America, claiming that the British people “took their country back, just like we will take America back”. This decision certain bodes well for the Trump campaign, and ought to be a shot in the arm to his supporters. While the long-term political consequences of Brexit are still up in the air, the short-term boost it will offer the Trump campaign seems undeniable.