While it will take years to determine the true extent of Brexit’s impact, Britain’s decision to leave the European Union will have repercussions for the way the continent contends with a still lagging global economy, a steady flow of refugees and an increasingly assertive Russia.
Despite global emotional and financial shock — the pound hit a 30-year low Friday — the leave vote from the EU’s second-largest economy and largest military power may not be the only populist action in Europe. Other countries have seen politicians calling for a growing sense of isolationism as the continent struggles with its changing makeup and what some perceive as its changing identity.
Major EU forces like France and Germany are struggling with populist movements. French politics has seen the rise of nationalist party National Front, led by the polarizing Marine Le Pen, who supports an exit from the EU for her own country. She said earlier this week before the vote that France has “a thousand more reasons to leave than the UK.”
The issue is likely to be at the fore of France’s presidential elections next year, and Britain’s vote in favor provides ammunition for the far-right that has gained strength as the refugee crisis presents a continuing challenge.
Support for Germany’s far-right party, Alternative for Germany, has also increased due to the wave of migrants. A series of sexual assaults on New Year’s Eve, allegedly perpetrated by immigrants, fueled anti-immigrant backlash. Such fears also led to the creation of PEGIDA (Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamisation of the West), a nationalist movement started in Dresden, Germany in 2014.
Germany’s current government expressed concern Friday over the vote, with Chancellor Angela Merkel saying she had “great regret” over Brexit and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier calling it “sobering.”
Right-wing, anti-immigrant Dutch politician Geert Wilders called Friday for a similar vote in the Netherlands so his country could “regain control over our country, our own money, our own borders, our own immigration policy.”
Political leaders in other countries, like Spain and Poland, haven’t outright called for a referendum of their own but have used the vote as a warning that the EU must reform or risk additional countries jumping ship from the European project aimed at preventing World War III.
Older, white voters in Europe are not the only ones in their demographic disillusioned with the increasingly diverse and interconnected world. Critics of Brexit warn the U.S. could find itself in a similar position come November when voters face the possibility of electing Donald Trump, who has fueled populist sentiment in the U.S., as president.
President Barack Obama, who has rejected Trump’s isolationist rhetoric, acknowledged Friday that Britain’s decision was a reflection of global shifts. But he expressed optimism that the populist movement would not prevail.
“I do think that yesterday's vote speaks to the ongoing changes and challenges that are raised by globalization,” Obama said in a speech at Stanford University. “Our NATO alliance will remain a cornerstone of global security and, in a few weeks, we'll be meeting in Warsaw for the NATO summit. And shared values, including our commitment to democracy and pluralism and opportunity for all people in a globalized world. That will continue to unite all of us.”