In a shocking repudiation of their own political establishment and the European elites, 51.9 per cent of the British voting electorate decided on June 23 to sever relations with the European Union. Immigration angst, unemployment, partial surrender of sovereignty to Brussels, and overwrought rules and regulations from the Continent have been cited among the causes of the Brexit movement. Prime Minister David Cameron who opposed the British exit has announced his resignation.
The “Leave” votes outnumbered the “Remain” votes by nearly 1.3 million, a relatively small number of people to determine the course of global architecture having antecedents established by the Treaty of Rome in 1958 — and to fracture a union of twenty-eight countries. Those countries have a total population of over 500 million and collectively have second largest GDP in the world based on both purchasing power parity, and on a nominal basis by some estimates.
With Scotland opting to remain in the EU by a margin of 62%, the obvious question is this: did the English public know what they were doing and did they know how severe the consequences could be for Britain and the world?
The resentment of British and European elites and fear of a loss of control of Queen and country are understandable. But the proponents of Brexit made limited public effort to reform the European Union and lobby the court of world opinion to their cause. Instead, like angry children they stormed out of the room with a tapestry of legitimate grievances. Now, even some who voted “Leave” evidently have remorse. At this writing, over three million signatures have been obtained for a new referendum. The knock-on effects of this rash act are known unknowns but alarming indeed.
First, anything that weakens Europe plays into the meaty hands of Russian strongman Vladimir Putin. As the Kremlin slyly rejoices, we should now expect more tactics of intimidation, leveraging of the energy supply, and subversion in the Baltic republics in the name of protecting ethnic Russian minorities there, particularly in Latvia and Estonia. A divided Europe, moreover, may increase resentment among the members of NATO. Britain is among the five of twenty-eight NATO nations that pay more than 2% of GDP for defense.
Second, we have already seen the destruction of about $2 trillion in global equity markets. Many Britons, including those who voted “Leave,” are now seeing the grim reality in their savings and brokerage accounts. And this is just the beginning of the financial and economic fallout. Now a soloist, Britain will need to renegotiate various trade agreements, but without the backing of the European consortium for leverage. Direct investment in Britain will likely be on hold, as boards of directors assess a new level of cross-border risk and lower earnings in Britain and Europe due to the decline of sterling and the euro. The world’s fifth largest economy and member of the G7 will limp into world forums, as investors question the credibility of London as a global financial center.
Third, secessionist movements will be emboldened. It is hard to believe that Scotland will not press for another referendum for independence. And elements in France, the Netherlands and Italy want a referendum.
Finally, a likely consequence will be the isolation of Britain and resentment all over the world for its self-destructive and contagious act. How many tourists will want to see Whitehall and Westminster Abbey and buy a tee shirt that says, “I love Britain?”
The Brexit vote is non-binding and subject to a potential act of Parliament, which is sovereign. Let us hope that the MPs will see the folly of this monstrous course adopted by a small majority and forgive them for their ill-informed thinking. With stiff upper lip, they should affirm EU membership but present their case to the world to reform the bureaucratic and patronizing ways of the Eurocrats in Brussels. The Brexit vote has demonstrated the vicious resentment of the Continent, and it may offer a new platform for timely reform. But it is nonetheless a badly misguided and destructive act of revenge.
As Albert Einstein said, “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
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