It’s a vote that could be as important worldwide as the American presidential election. U.K. residents will decide Thursday on whether Britain should make an exit – or Brexit – from the European Union.
On the eve of the referendum, politicians made their last pushes on staying in or out. Polls are currently deadlocked. But at the heart of the Brexit debate is an immigration battle that parallels debates in the United States.
“The percentage of them (migrants) in town has just become too much, you know? It’s dragged the town down because there has been ‘white flight,’” British business owner Brian Hall said.
A poster released last week by the U.K. Independence Party, which favors leaving, features Syrian refugees. Critics have called the advertisement ‘small-minded’ and ‘xenophobic.’
Anti-Brexiters say those looking to leave the E.U. are using a so-called Trump strategy. In fact, the candidate is set to visit his Scottish golf resort during the referendum.
Santa Clara University’s Dennis Gordon says the backlash against immigration in Europe sounds similar to some sentiments in the United States.
“In that sense, this certainly would let Donald Trump say, ‘Look, the rest of the world agrees with me,’” Gordon said.
The political science professor explains U.S. and European Union borders are not comparable.
“Any member of the European union can without a visa, go to another member country and go to work, receive social benefits. It’s a little bit more like how the federal system works in the United States,” Gordon said.
Economist Tim Kane says we saw a similar debate over economics when Greece was contemplating a “Grexit.”
“The immigration issues animates a lot of the anxiety in Europe and rightly so. When you’re forced to have your borders open and you’re forced to give people from outside benefits and welfare, that’s a recipe for a lot of frustration and anxiety,” said Kane, with the Hoover Institution.
Kane says the decision could also trigger “gyrations” in the stock market and the Fed could keep interest rates lower on American home mortgages. He also says currency could be impacted short-term and make it cheaper for Americans tourists to visit the U.K.
“Whether Britain stays or whether Britain goes, I don’t think there will be economic consequences that are that large,” Kane said. “Europe is punching below its weight. And it’s held back by a lot of bureaucratic red tape. That’s what’s fueling the Brexit sentiment.”
If Brits do decide to make a Brexit, experts say nothing will really happen for at least two years. That’s how long it would take Britain and the E.U. to negotiate the divorce.