Europe After Brexit
After 43 years of EU membership, Britain has decided to retreat into itself, proving that Britons, despite their reputation for pragmatism, are far from exempt from voting against their own interests. The question is whether the rest of the EU can resist the decidedly un-pragmatic forces the Brexit vote is sure to unleash.
PARIS – US President Franklin D. Roosevelt once proclaimed that “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” The United Kingdom’s “Brexit” referendum, in which just over half of those who voted chose to leave the European Union, proved that he was not exactly right. We must also fear the people, like Britain’s populist leaders, who prey on public fears to bring about truly terrifying outcomes. In this case, the outcome may well lead to the EU’s disintegration.
After 43 years of EU membership, Britain has, in what is purportedly the most democratic manner possible, decided to retreat into itself. However pragmatic and realistic Britons supposedly are, they have voted against their own interests. By rejecting the EU, they have probably condemned their country to gradual impoverishment and, perhaps, to not-so-gradual disintegration, as the leaders of Scotland and Northern Ireland, which overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, have said they want out.
Indeed, what Britons should have been afraid of was Brexit. Yet reason, weakly defended by uninspired and untrusted establishment voices, could not stand up to fears of what might come through a door left open to the rest of Europe – and, indeed, the rest of the world.
We hope you're enjoying Project Syndicate.
To continue reading, subscribe now.
Get unlimited access to PS premium content, including in-depth commentaries, book reviews, exclusive interviews, On Point, the Big Picture, the PS Archive, and our annual year-ahead magazine.
Already have an account or want to create one to read two commentaries for free? Log in