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The Social-Justice Implications of Brexit

In the ongoing brouhuahua over Brexit, Kalyani Unkule tries to uniquely assess the impact on global social justice through the various consequences Brexit threatens to have on politics, trade relations, and the lives of the British people.

Even as the political and economic fallout of the result of the Brexit referendum largely remain matters of speculation, one already anticipates that this seismic development promises far-reaching aftershocks for global social justice.


Within the UK itself, the impact will depend a great deal on the terms of withdrawal. In the run-up to the referendum, each tier of the economy – multinationals, small and medium businesses and working professionals (both blue and white collar) – seemed to include supporters for both “Stay” and “Leave”.

Thus neither of these segments clearly emerge as potentially taking the greatest hit, based on this fact alone. More interestingly, polling data reveal that areas with younger voters had significantly lower turnout on June 23rd. Since the strongest support for retaining membership of the EU came from the youngest eligible voters and much of the “Leave” rhetoric finding traction referred to returning to a pre-Common Market idyll, weeks and months to come are likely to throw up some interesting questions about inter-generational decision-making, interaction and social justice outcomes. Studies have also suggested that the loss of EU spending will disproportionately affect agricultural regions and poorer communities adversely.

As far as the impact on the rest of EU, both the Union as an entity and the UK, will lose some of their international clout in terms of hard bargaining and soft power. But the development to be kept a close eye on would be the reconfiguration of alliances and redistribution of power in the domestic politics of member states. If Brexit strengthens the voice and support-base of ultra-nationalist and far right-wing groups, the EU will be forced to revisit its position on pressing global issues such as immigration and conflict resolution.

The rest of the world is equally gripped by anxiety over an uncertain future. With significant business interests in the UK, the likes of Hong Kong, Japan and India are guarded about the prospects for future trade and investment. It is also true, however, that many emerging economies had never really transitioned away from bilateral trading agreements to working exclusively with the EU as a block and the opportunity of negotiating fresh trading agreements with the UK means new possibilities, perhaps even different sets of winners and losers on each side.

Moving forward, any assessment of the EU’s contribution to global justice will be complicated by the evolutionary nature of European identity, popular concerns and political rhetoric. Ironically, the only stable frame of reference will be the enduring global insecurity and instability that increasingly appears to fuel this evolution.

Kalyani Unkule is Assistant Dean, International Collaborations and Assistant Professor at Jindal Global Law School

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