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Jeffrey Gillespie: Brexit — a guide for the perplexed

What the heck is the "Brexit", and why should Americans care?

Well, we should care for a number of reasons. The Brexit, under a referendum happening in Great Britain as this column is written, is an isolationist measure designed to bring the UK out of the European Union, making it a nation with no real political or economic obligations to Brussels, or to the other 28 member states of the union, other than those agreements that Britain may elect to negotiate with those nations outside of any EU framework.

While the move, on the face of it, looks like an economic decision — supporters are interested in stressing the fact that the British economy might be better off were it not being dragged on by less robust European economies such as Spain and Greece — the fact of the matter is that the reasoning behind the Brexit process has far more to do with a surge in nationalism and isolationism that is a direct result of two things: massive immigration into the UK over the last 20-odd years (in that time, the foreign-born population of Britain has more than doubled, from 3.8 million to around 8.4 million) combined with a significant backlash against a perceived "home-grown" terrorist threat; a threat that has become more pronounced in the mind of many Britons since the Paris attacks and other acts of radical jihadists in recent years.

Today, 77 percent of British subjects believe that immigration should be "significantly" reduced. For ultra-conservative elements within the British establishment, that number of disgruntled voters is a political moment to be capitalized upon. As such, the Brexit movement has gained more traction than it rightly deserves, when, in fact, it is a movement designed to manipulate the same wave of xenophobia and naiveté that has propelled ultra-conservative aspects of the American voting public toward the Trump candidacy on our side of the pond.

The Brexit is a terrible idea. Economists are virtually united in that perception. Not only would Britain be forced to renegotiate all of its trade deals with the whole of Europe, but it is very likely that an exit from the European Union would cause the British pound, one of the strongest currencies in the world, to dip dramatically. There would be a pincer effect on the average UK household that legendary hedge-fund investor George Soros (himself an expert on currency markets, having made in excess of a billion dollars betting against the pound in the 1990s) claims will cost each British household an average of $5,000 per year in real terms.

The reason why the referendum is happening at all is that British prime minister David Cameron, in a bold political move, called for it, in an attempt to squelch the far-right elements within his own party that have long wanted to Balkanize the EU out of a misguided prejudice born of the so-called immigration "problem."

The bottom line? A faction of racist lunatics within Britain, and their ever-moronic coterie of political supporters, are playing chicken with the world economy in a weak-minded attempt to extradite the immigrant population. Much like Donald Trump and his Mexican wall-obsessed followers, this group is made up of a marginalized and angry sector of the population that simply cannot deal with the fact that a global economy has forever changed the traditional structure of the nation state.

Based on the speculation of even its most ardent supporter, Nigel Farage of the far-right UK Independence Party, a Brexit will in all likelihood not have happened by the time you read this. If the Remain proponents prevail, that would set a possible precedent for world leaders to stop promising absurd nationalistic solutions, and to start working with their constituents to develop and evolve ideas that correlate with the reality of a borderless world.

Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at gillespie.jeffrey@gmail.com.