As much as we love to draw parallels in the world, let's have a bit of calm in the wake of the 52-48 Brexit decision in the referendum for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union.
The United States wonders if there is a parallel with Donald Trump as the presumptive GOP nominee. Andrew Coyne weighed in on a parallel with Brexit and Quebec, as almost anyone who would paying attention knew that column was coming.
On this Bonne Fête nationale in Quebec, waking up to this news is quite tempting. The circumstances in the UK decision don't resemble Quebec's concerns.
If you desperately need a parallel to tease your political palette, Scotland's overwhelming decision could definitely spark another referendum vote to leave the UK and be in the EU like their Irish cousins, once removed. Scotland First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says a second independence referendum is highly likely and "is on the table." Northern Ireland could also follow.
If you have to choose a North America parallel to get you through this UK decision, sadly, the U.S. example is a closer parallel. The vote to leave the European Union was a hearty combination of a few factors:
- Dislike of David Cameron. You could have had two votes on Thursday: one to leave the EU, one to ask "Can we stay in the EU if Cameron offers to leave." Many voted to leave because of Cameron. The prime minister says he will step down this fall.
- Trade rules. EU myths are rather funny, but unlike Quebec language police myths, the EU ones aren't true. But when polls suggest that less-educated people wanted to leave the EU, facts aren't always the deciding factor. Besides, the EU factors that are true have little to no impact on the lives of regular folks in England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.
- Immigration. This was a concern for the pro-leave side, but the UK won't be able to make as dramatic an adjustment in immigration. And with a drop in the UK economy as a result of leaving the EU, the concern over jobs switches from immigration fears to a worse economy. You are seeing short-term drops in economic factors now, but the numbers will be even worse when the UK actually leaves in about 24 months.
- Independence. The United Kingdom had more control of its destiny, even with the European Union, before the vote. Selling the idea of independence is a easy rallying cry, especially to those who don't get the subtlety of the UK-EU relationship. Those in the United States might laugh at the idea of British independence, even if that laughter is almost 250 years old.
Quebec's take on immigration has traditionally been not about people as people who can speak French. However, we did see concerns over the niqab during the 2015 federal election with reaction from some Quebecers over the Muslim head coverings seen as "oppressive." The fact that then Quebec Premier Pauline Marois of the Parti Quebecois defended the Quebec Soccer Federation’s ban on turbans fueled the fire within the debate.
An independent Quebec could severely limit immigration based on those fears, but with a declining birth rate in Quebec, especially from those who have been in the province for multiple generations, the province would pay a price economically with such a policy.
The irrationality of having similar trade rules that we've seen in the pro-Brexit vote is even more irrational in Quebec. The UK has more economic pull with the EU; like with immigration, Quebec doesn't have enough pull from a trade standpoint to write its own magical rules.
Independence for Quebec is definitely a selling point in a future referendum in La Belle Province. The English Channel symbolically made a UK departure easier. The borders with Ontario, Labrador, 4 U.S. states, and New Brunswick makes the scenario in Quebec much more difficult.
"Suppose this analysis is wrong, and the U.K. were able to negotiate a free trade deal with the EU, in good time and on good terms. Then federalists here would have lost one of their best arguments, and all of the explanations about how the two situations were different would go unheard."
Coyne's major point is that if the UK can negotiate good terms on trade, that could inspire Quebec to do the same with another referendum. The pro-Brexit argument was that trade would be similar. The two factors that would change that perspective is that a) the EU will take a pound or two of flesh as a result of leaving the EU; and b) Quebec isn't in a strong position to negotiate on trade.
"As with a Quebec secession bid, no one can predict what would follow with any confidence. Which is what makes Brexit so potentially dangerous."
On that point, I can agree with Coyne. But Quebec has enough reasons to contemplate that someday, but have nothing to do with what is happening in the United Kingdom and the European Union.
The smaller, but not less important stories, are the ones to watch. Ireland will benefit greatly in the UK-EU split. There will be concerns over trade and border control with Ireland and the UK. Spain wants joint control over Gibraltar. The small island, under UK control, will see the most dramatic changes given how fluid the Gibraltar economy is with Spain.
Ontario could gain even more dramatically if Quebec were to leave from a financial standpoint than Ireland will get from the UK-EU split.
Canada will still trade with the UK, but the trade deals will suffer as will UK trade with the EU. That hurts the UK more, but Canada will likely shift some of the trade to the EU, a parallel concern for Quebec in a trade world. Canada minus Quebec are more likely to bring in maple syrup from Vermont rather than Quebec. Whatever parallel you might want out of this decision, maple syrup is a significant currency that Quebec should consider in a future referendum.
photo credit: Reuters