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What Brexit Reveals About the EU

After almost four years of divisive Brexit politics, it is easy to forget that most UK voters had previously given little thought to the European Union. And according to recent polling, the same is true of voters across the rest of the EU, suggesting that the bloc's biggest problem is not Euroskepticism but indifference.

LONDON – In another bizarre twist in the Brexit saga, the United Kingdom’s Parliament has signaled its acceptance of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s withdrawal deal with the European Union, but has also decided there must be a general election on December 12 before the deal can finally be ratified. EU leaders could be forgiven an ironic smile. Even though opinion polls give Johnson’s pro-Brexit Conservatives a commanding lead as the campaign opens, they also indicate that a clear majority of British voters – larger than the one that backed “Leave” in the 2016 referendum – actually favors remaining in the EU.

But EU leaders may want to contain their smiles. The EU’s biggest enemy is not Euroskeptic hostility, but rather indifference. Although polls taken even before the Brexit referendum tended to show a majority for Remain, they also found that most Britons didn’t care about the EU one way or another. The question of EU membership simply wasn’t a priority issue for most people. It was assumed that voters would select the less risky option and support Remain. In fact, their indifference put the referendum up for grabs.

As a result, random contingencies or the effectiveness of either side’s rhetoric had the potential to push the result over the line in either direction. In the event, immigration had become an especially potent issue in 2016, owing to media images of mass migration and refugee flows across the Mediterranean and the Balkans. For the “Leave” campaign, the EU’s failure to manage the crisis was a boon.

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