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The End of the EU’s Brexit Bounce

After years of watching the United Kingdom muddle through a political crisis while enjoying an unprecedented level of unity among themselves, Europeans now must prepare for darker days. Negotiations over the future UK-EU relationship will inevitably divide Europeans and offer fodder to Euroskeptics.

BERLIN – After the United Kingdom voted in 2016 to leave the European Union, policymakers and political leaders across Europe feared that they, too, would soon face a similar crisis. They worried about a domino effect in which populist movements and politicians would lead other member states out of the EU one by one, effectively reversing a decades-long process of European integration.

But, at least until recently, Brexit had the opposite effect. Much to everyone’s surprise, the EU in the years after the UK’s referendum enjoyed a Brexit dividend. Europeans watched the UK descend into political chaos, with Britons literally stockpiling food and medicine for fear of what the future might hold. EU member states that typically agree on very little suddenly found themselves united behind the European Commission’s negotiating strategy. Support for the EU among Europeans soared. The new joke was that thanks to US President Donald Trump and Brexit, America and Britain had saved the Europeans from themselves for the third time in a century.

But, rather than averting an EU-wide crisis, the Brexit dividend may have merely deferred an inevitable reckoning. In speaking with European presidents, prime ministers, and foreign ministers at this year’s Munich Security Conference, one could detect a palpable fear that the costs of Brexit would soon start to outweigh the benefits. Many national politicians and EU-level policymakers are now worried that the dividend will become a liability.

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