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Explained: The impact of Brexit on the MENA region

Brexit result has ushered in an unprecedented era of great uncertainty for how the UK and the EU will interact with the MENA region

October 3, 2016 at 6:45 pm

Although British Prime Minister Theresa May has emphatically stated, “Brexit means Brexit”, and that the UK will start the exit proceedings by March 2017, the British government has yet to articulate a clear vision of what post-Brexit Britain would look like.

Aside from British and European concerns, the Brexit result has ushered in an unprecedented era of great uncertainty for how the UK and the EU will interact with the MENA region.

More than three months after Britain voted to leave the European Union, the Brexit debate still rages on. Domestically, the Brexit debate has revolved around issues of sovereignty, economy, and fears over mass uncontrolled immigration.

Economically, several businesses that conduct trade between Britain and the MENA region have already reported how their commercial interests have taken a hit. The economic turmoil in the aftermath of the Brexit vote echoes fears of no longer having access to the EU single market, which would no doubt push away investors.

This will turn the UK’s attention in the short term toward trade relationships – in the MENA region, those negotiated as EU association agreements with countries like Egypt, the Maghreb countries, and Israel, will be at the forefront of British trade planning. At the same, Brexit has cast into doubt the future of current joint UK-EU projects in the region.

The political and foreign policy implications are likely to be just as significant, if not more so, than the economic.

Aside from the internal political turmoil with regard to Scotland’s desire to remain as part of the EU and the polarisation within the British public, Brexit may lead to what the Financial Times has described as “the most fundamental reshaping of Britain’s foreign policy since the 1960s, when Britain gave up its empire.” That said, the political impact of Brexit on the MENA region is still somewhat obscure. Syria and Iraq may be seen only through the prism of the fight against Daesh and efforts to stem immigration and refugee flow – objectives affecting Britain’s own national interest.

Perhaps somewhat reflected in current British government policy, the prevalent xenophobic and anti-immigration attitudes associated with the leave camp specifically reject any refugees coming into the country.

Aside from economic concerns over those seeking humanitarian asylum, some believe that Daesh militants may infiltrate Europe by masquerading as refugees. This is even though the UK’s security and intelligence sharing privileges with other EU nations have now been put at risk by Brexit.

Such attitudes, however, could further pressure Britain to close its doors to refugees. This is already becoming evident with the construction of a wall near Calais to keep refugees out.

As Britain will have more autonomy over its foreign policy, Britain’s future approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is also still unclear.

Baroness Tonge believes that it might be good news that the UK is no longer committed to abide by EU policies, as that will allow the UK to adopt policies without the consent of all EEU member states.

However, as the British approach to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict continues to be influenced and dominated by those close to Israel – who stand in opposition to the BDS campaign for instance – a more balanced UK foreign policy still seems unlikely, not least of which is due to Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson’s views on the matter.