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Brexit: Tough questions remain even after the votes are tallied

Voters have their say in the British referendum on whether to remain part of the European Union or leave. (Credit: Alex McNaughton/Sputnik via AP)

LONDON — As people across the United Kingdom cast their votes to either Remain or Leave, the U.K.’s position as a leader in global development hangs in the balance. Whether the U.K. stays in the EU or not, tough questions remain on how to deal with immigration and poverty in a globalized world.

In an article with The Guardian last week, Gary Yonge highlighted that “so long as most of the world lives on less than $10 a day, then the poor will move in search of food and work.”

Yonge qualified this saying that “every discussion about foreign policy, international development, economic growth, labor regulation, the European social fund and climate change should also be an integral part of the argument about immigration.”

People will always leave poverty and destitution for the hope of a better life in the developed world. So long as we do not work together through the COP21 climate agreement to effectively provide solutions to climate adaption and disaster risk reduction, we will have a refugee crisis adding to the current level of 65 million. Unless we address the fact that trade agreements can cause greater inequality and slower levels of inclusive growth, developing economies will struggle to grow internal and external markets of scale. If we fail to provide a stronger framework to tackle tax avoidance and corruption that the IMF estimates costs the developing world some $200 billion per year, domestic-resource mobilization, a central tenet of the Addis Financing for Development Summit, will cost countries the ability to grow sustainably and in an inclusive way.

The EU is also an interesting example of how development can work. It has learned from the biggest development assistance project in the history of the 20th and 21st century: the U.S.-funded Marshall Plan. This rescued Europe from economic ruin, providing relief and resettlement to refugees every bit as astronomical in numbers as today. Through this, and through the vision of the minds that created the European Union, the aim was integration.

The European Union acts in this spirit of the Marshall Plan, providing structural funding for projects across the EU that improves the lives of many across the EU. This is funded through collective membership costs, administered through the European Commission. In addition, the EU provides funding to some of the most deprived parts of the U.K. that successive British governments have systematically neglected.

This includes former mining towns of South Wales and the northeast of England and former industrial heartlands. The effects of Brexit on budgetary allocation would means that the treasury would have to plug the £4.6 billion funding gap in areas that the European Commission provides structural funds to the U.K.

Europe can be the model for international development and for the importance of collaborative efforts to overcome some of the world’s biggest challenges.

Leaving the EU would affect our ability to legislate for a better world, and herald in a new age of isolationism. In an article yesterday with Devex, a U.N. official said that by leaving the EU, the U.K.’s “interests would no longer be at the top of the agenda. … The EU will have different budget priorities if the U.K. leaves.”

The answer is not closing diplomatic, political and economic bonds across the EU bloc and beyond, but strengthening and improving these ties to tackle poverty, at home and abroad. By tackling poverty abroad we can ensure that immigration poses less of a perceived threat to communities across the country.


About Author

Charlie Ensor

Charlie Ensor is a Nairobi-based freelance journalist, focusing on refugee rights, development and humanitarian crises in East Africa. His work has also featured on the Guardian and WhyDev; he also writes his own blog on development and aid issues. Charlie tweets @charlieensor, and you can contact him at