Is Nationalism the Most Serious Challenge to Human Rights? Warnings from BREXIT and Lessons from History


The United Kingdom’s decision to exit the European Union is arguably the the most momentous event in the European Union’s history, and the human rights implications of the exit will be staggering. This Article is part of the important discussion organized around these emerging human rights issues. The decision of the United Kingdom to leave the European Union reflects a pattern of regression of human rights protection that has been happening around the world in recent years. This decision has given rise to a wave of xenophobia and racism, including a sharp rise in hate crimes in the UK since the exit vote. The decision to leaving is also causing the EU a tremendous amount of anxiety for individuals and families who are uncertain about their fate post-Brexit. Furthermore, the United Kingdom’s exit may hasten the weakening or breakup of the EU, destabilizing not just the region, but the entire world. This Article does not discuss how Brexit changes the EK’s internal framework of human rights or how it will impact the UK’s relationship with the European Court of Human Rights; rather, the discussion of this Article focuses on the broader human rights implications of a radically altered or non-existent European Union.

This Article will begin with a brief overview of Brexit itself, as well as a deeper look at how Brexit is part of a larger spike in nationalism in Europe and the rest of the world. The article will then turn to the EU, beginning with a cursory discussion of the origins of the EU, recent problems the EU has been facing, and how Brexit might weaken or even destroy the EU. The article will then discuss the problems that are a byproduct of a weakened or completely broken EU, focusing on the possibility of violent conflict and examining the link between conflict and human rights violations. Finally, the Article will conclude with a discussion of what can be done by individual states and the EU to minimize the chances of the worst possible outcomes.


Nationalism; Human Rights; BREXIT; EU; Economics; Migration; Security; Democracy


Lauren Fielder, Assistant Dean of Graduate & International Programs and Director of the Institute for Transnational Law, The University of Texas School of Law

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Project & Publications Type: Working Paper Series