One thing is certain about Brexit, the moniker referring to Great Britain's referendum and ultimate decision to exit the European Union: pundits, politicians, and citizens around the world aren't exactly sure how to handle one of the most awkward divorces in recent memory.
The radical separation of political entities is not unprecedented, and there are some well-known examples: the rift of Czechoslovakia into the Czech Republic and Slovakia, the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and the distinction of South Sudan from Sudan. Attempts to secede are even more numerous, one notable example being the Scottish independence referendum in 2014.
The magnitude of Britain's decision is difficult to understate. Among other things, it is the first time in the history of the EU that one of its 28 members has voted to leave. The decision was not reached quietly and the results showed that only slightly more than half of voters wanted this outcome. David Cameron, who is expected to resign as British Prime Minister by October, led a desperate effort to advocate for the UK to remain, but even members of his own Conservative Party stood against him.
The origins of the anti-EU sentiments that led to Brexit are as numerous and complex as its inevitable, though yet largely unnamed, ramifications. So-called "eurosceptics" are generally repulsed by the EU's bureaucracy and insistence on bringing about a more globalized (for some, anti-democratic) world. These apprehensions sometimes solidify into right-wing populist parties like the UK Independence Party. Similar examples exist in many of the EU's member nations. Anti-immigration tends to be an important part of their platforms.
What makes Brexit unique is that never before has a world power like the United Kingdom lobbied so successfully to isolate itself from other nations to which it has deep political, economic, and cultural ties. People truly do not know how the nature of international security, the economy, and migration will change, but they agree that the changes will likely be long-lasting. The EU may try to tighten control over the remaining members and punish the UK by reducing its access to markets. Scotland may attempt another referendum to break away from the UK and remain in the EU. Northern Ireland may try to unite with Ireland in a similar effort. And, what the hell, poor Greece and Italy may try to jump ship too. International trade and rates of global investment may shrink, the dollar may resurge, America may have less say in European politics, Russia may try to expand, UK scientists may receive less funding, and tourists to London may finally take a breath of relief as the pound strains their wallets a little less.
The border, as a concept, was never stable. Its definition invites people to draw and construct their own boundaries, so they do.
What seems a little clearer is that human relationships will change. As the UK slowly works to figure out what the definition of a border means, its people will have to ask themselves how much they are willing to sacrifice relationships with business partners, friends, and family. The border, as a concept, was never stable. Its definition invites people to draw and construct their own boundaries, so they do.
The border is a leading advocate of nationhood and the enemy of globalization. The fear of that process stems from the fear that, one day, the individual will no longer be able to self-determine. Her politics, her culture, and her habits won't be her own. The world will be an orgy of togetherness led by establishment politicians who know little of the common man's needs. Free movement will mean diminished resources for the native population. Americans will recognize this argument.
Brexit has already left a lot of people bitter, and we will have to wait and see how the next U.S. president handles the country's "special relationship" with the UK. Many Americans will not feel the immediate effects of Brexit (although companies with headquarters abroad very well may), but it is now clear that something as dramatic and unprecedented as Brexit can happen - overseas and at home. If the world is getting smaller, its problems certainly are not. How does the saying go? It takes a village...