Fiery National Pride Sweeps through Europe, Jumps Across the English Channel

By Calla Ketchens

“When Joan D’Arc was asked by her judges why as a Christian she did not love the British, she answered that she did love them, but she loved British in their country. In the same way, we do not hate the Turks, we love them, but in their country.” ~~ Jean-Marie Le Pen


The world, especially Europe, was shocked when the people of Britain voted to leave the European Union in June by a narrow margin of 52:48. [1]. However, if you consider the trend towards the far right across Europe, this vote may be less surprising. Indeed, we can see a similar sentiment here in the U.S. personified as a certain presidential candidate (hint: his name starts with a T). But before we delve into how Brexit fits into the rise of the far right, or nationalists movement, or as some call it “new nationalism,” we must define the “far right.”

In Case You’ve Been Under a Rock: Brexit and the Spread of New Nationalism

“Far right” European political parties are not the same as, although they may have similar characteristics as, the “right” or GOP of the U.S. Far right in many European nations is characterized by a strong sense of nationalism. Lower-income voters who have felt displaced by the influx of migrants and international institutions finally have a seemingly acceptable platform to express their malcontent with how their respective governments are governing their countries. [2],[3]. Some parties, like France’s Front National have been in existence since the 1970s, but are recently seeing a resurgence. [4]. The refugee crisis plays a huge role in this resurgence and spawning of the far right. [5]. While European nations are certainly not feeling all the weight and pressure of the wave of Syrian, Iraqi, Pakistani, etc. refugees (in fact, that would be Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon [6]), they are still feeling an effect on their economics and national security. Germany, the E.U.’s economically strongest country, spent about $14,340 to house and feed each refugee that came there in 2013. [7]. Now multiply that by 1.5 million (an estimated amount of migrants expected to come through Germany’s doors in 2016), it would cost Germany $21.5 billion dollars. Obviously this is a large amount for any country to front, but it could be nearly impossible for other countries, like Greece, Italy, Spain, or France, who’s economies are borderline stagnant. [8]. E.U. countries are reaching into their welfare systems, thereby taking money away from their citizens, which especially makes the elderly population nervous. Front National and similar groups were waiting in the wing ready to sweep in and capitalize on these fears and discomfort, and they’ve resonated. [9].

Post-WWII socialism and the eventual creation of the European Union have also led to this “new nationalism.” Some members of these movements are using these parties more legitimate economic concerns as a guise for a bigoted, xenophobic platform. Others are sincerely concerned that after decades of open trade, open borders (for E.U. citizens), and less State specific policies for immigration and trade that their respective governments have forgotten about its citizens. [10]. Because the focus of the EU is not on public opinion, bu really on the lowest common denominator for the public good, people are feeling disenfranchised because it appears as if no one is listening to their concerns. [11]. “Economic dislocation and industrial restructuring, austerity and privatisation, unemployment and job insecurity, fear of immigration, and a more general sense of vanishing influence over the decisions that affect their daily lives[,] [a]ll feed into the negative feelings people have about the EU.” [12]. Some examples of these far right, nationalistic parties include: Austria’s “Freedom Party;” Belgium’s “Flemish Interest;” Germany’s “National Democratic Party of Germany;” Italy’s “Northern League;” Norway’s “Progress Party;” and a plethora of neo-nazi groups thrown into the mix—although they tend to be on the fringe and are not seen as legitimate political parties. [13].

            This leads us to Britain. David Cameron of Britain’s Conservative Party promised voters a referendum that ultimately led to the Brexit in an effort to keep down the rise of United Kingdom Independence Party, a “Euro-skeptic, right wing” party. [14]. Unfortunately, this backfired for Cameron, and he resigned as Prime Minister promptly after the vote. [15]. The effects of Brexit could be catastrophic for the E.U. Britain was the E.U.’s second largest economy and its exist could decrease E.U.’s GDP by 15%, not to mention a huge dig at Britain’s economy. [16]. Already-struggling countries, such as Spain, France, Italy, and Greece, will certainly feel that effect, making their respective far right parties more appealing for some voters. If Britain does actually exit, this could have the effect of making other euro-skeptic parties’ plans more legitimate and practical. Britain’s exit would be less opening the floodgates and more providing the breeze to spread the fire. The mildly ironic thing about all of this is that Britain had a more independent and flexible arrangement than other E.U. countries in part because it retained its own currency and was outside the visa-free Schengen Zone. [17]. The voters of Brexit are characteristic of the voters flocking to euro-skeptic, nationalistic parties across the E.U. The make up of who voted for what is fascinating: a majority of voters under the age of 44 voted to stay while a majority of voters over 45 voted to leave. [18]. Turnout for young voters was low. [19]. Voters in more rural areas (not including Scotland and Northern Ireland) overwhelmingly voted to leave. [20]. Voters for Brexit were traditionally a part of the working class and did not share in the overall economic growth that many in the E.U. purportedly felt. [21]. There is an overall sense of mistrust of elites (read: university educated, journalists, bankers, career politicians) because they are thought to only be serving liberal and metropolitan interests. [22].

What Do Brexit and New Nationalism Mean for Treaty Obligations?

            This spread of New Nationalism is alarming because of the possible implications it could have on customary international law principles, such as non-refoulement. Non-refoulement is laid out in Article 33(1) of the Convention on the Status of Refugees, and it essentially means that no party-state can expel or return a refugee from its borders back to the country from which the refugee came where the refugee’s life or freedom is in danger. [23]. Moreover, all members of the E.U. signed off on a similar provision when they joined the E.U., including Great Britain. [24]. If Britain actually leaves (this is still up in the air)[1], Britain’s legal obligation under the EU treaty will cease to exist, but Britain did ratify the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees. [25]. In fact, the same could be said for a majority, if not all, of the EU countries. [26]. If these New Nationalism parties gain power, EU countries could potentially begin neglecting their international duties by satiating the fears explained above, neglecting refugees, and isolating themselves. This could not only have grave effects on human rights, but it could also negatively impact countries’ economies and foreign relations.

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[1] “Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU” Brian Wheeler & Alex Hunt, BBC News  (last visited Sept. 1, 2016).

[2] “Why the New Nationalists Are Taking Over” Michael Hirsh, Politico, (June 27, 2016)

[3] “Is Europe Lurching to the far right?” Katya Adler, BBC News, (Apr. 28, 2016)

[4] “These 5 Facts Explain the Worrying Rise of Europe’s Far-Right” Ian Bremmer, Time, (Oct. 15, 2015) .

[5] Id.

[6] Syria Regional Refugee Response, UNHCR (last visited Sept. 1, 2016).

[7] Bremmer, supra note 4.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Hirsh, supra note 2.

[11] “Brexit: Europe’s new nationalism is here to stay” Simon Toubeau, The Sydney Morning Herald, (June 24, 2016)

[12] Id.

[13] “Europe’s Right Wing: A Nation-by-Nation Guide to Political Parties and Extremist Groups: Full List” Time,,29569,2085728,00.htm (last visited Aug. 20, 2016) (The list is slightly outdated, but similar ideologies and parties still exist).

[14] Bremmer, supra note 4.

[15] “Britain’s two main political parties in turmoil over E.U. fallout” Dan Balz, et. al., Washington Post, (June 26, 2016)

[16] Bremmer, supra note 4.

 [17] “Beyond Brexit: Europe’s Populist Backlash Against Immigration and Globalization” Owen Matthews, Newsweek, (June 28, 2016)

[18] “EU referendum: The result in maps and charts” BBC News, (June 24, 2016)

[19] Id.

[20] Id.

[21] Matthews, supra note 17.

[22] Id.

 [23] Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, July 28, 1951, 189 U.N.T.S. 150, art. 33(1), available at (last visited September 1, 2016).

[24] The Consolidated version of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, Mar. 30, 2010, 2010 O.J. (C 83) 47, at art. 78(1), formerly the "Treaty Establishing the European Community," available at

[25] States Parties to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol, available at

[26] Id.