Rising global popularity for regionalism: why is the UK thinking about drifting away?

Alex Goldsworthy:

The current EU referendum rhetoric by both the leave and remain campaigns have been disappointingly dominated by fear. 

Statements from key Brexiter’s such as Boris Johnson have attempted to stoke up hysteria with warnings that Turkey will soon be joining the EU and thus would obliviously result in all 80 million of its citizens flooding into the country. This unsubstantiated claim has played on certain islamophobic tendencies that exist in the UK and it is worrying to see that they are filtering into mainstream politics. 

While on the other side, Cameron and Osbourne have intensely focused on the negative economic implications of leaving the EU and have painted it to sound like a full blown Armageddon. Cameron’s approach has been dictated partly due to a lack of choice – it would be difficult for him to focus on the many positive things the EU has to offer when he has spent so much time criticising it. The overall tone of fear is sad – we should really be proud. 

As the first coherent regional attempt to create an institution which expressed the particular identity and shaped collective action within a geographical area, the EU was a pioneering model which many regions have aspired to. These include intergovernmental organisations such as the African Union (AU) and The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Although the EU is far from perfect, organisations such as the UN, IMF and WB are in near universal agreement that overall, such institutions bring lots of positives to a country’s development.

Firstly, they can enhance inter-regional trade by the removal of trade barriers such as tariffs and the simplifying of bureaucracy, thus spurring economic growth and enlarging the opportunities for competitive exports. Secondly, they give countries a stronger global voice therefore enabling them to have greater bargaining powers. Thirdly, they improve security by creating an effective mechanism for conflict resolution. Fourthly, they open up possibility for technological transfers and increased social mobility, therefore diminishing certain inequalities. Finally, for landlocked countries they allow them to gain access to ports with the potential of engaging in global trade. 

The East African Community (EAC), composed of six countries in the African Great Lakes (Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda etc.), launched its own common market for goods, labour and capital in 2010 with the eventual goal of creating a common currency in 2024. According to the International Growth Centre the region is richer with bilateral trade increasing by 213% as well as being more peaceful.

Therefore with regionalism growing in popularity and most data pointing to its positives, why are we on the verge of leaving? This is somewhat baffling and worrying especially as the polls currently show both campaigns are neck and neck. If we were to leave we would be running counter to global trends and we would be taking a step back in our country’s progress.

Image: http://www.theguardian.com/uk