The Meaning of Brexit

NEW YORK – The Brexit vote was a triple protest: against surging immigration, City of London bankers, and European Union institutions, in that order. It will have major consequences. Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidency will receive a huge boost, as will other anti-immigrant populist politicians. Moreover, leaving the EU will wound the British economy, and could well push Scotland to leave the United Kingdom – to say nothing of Brexit’s ramifications for the future of European integration.

Brexit is thus a watershed event that signals the need for a new kind of globalization, one that could be far superior to the status quo that was rejected at the British polls.

At its core, Brexit reflects a pervasive phenomenon in the high-income world: rising support for populist parties campaigning for a clampdown on immigration. Roughly half the population in Europe and the United States, generally working-class voters, believes that immigration is out of control, posing a threat to public order and cultural norms.

In the middle of the Brexit campaign in May, it was reported that the UK had net immigration of 333,000 persons in 2015, more than triple the government’s previously announced target of 100,000. That news came on top of the Syrian refugee crisis, terrorist attacks by Syrian migrants and disaffected children of earlier immigrants, and highly publicized reports of assaults on women and girls by migrants in Germany and elsewhere.