The Brexit Balance Sheet

BRUSSELS – Prime Minister David Cameron’s offer to British citizens to hold a referendum on whether to leave the European Union might have seemed like a reasonably safe gamble just a few years ago. Most people then probably would have voted to stay. That was before the Greek crisis created havoc in the eurozone, and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of refugees caused the EU (although not the United Kingdom) to lose control of some of its borders.

Cameron might actually get other European leaders to agree to his demands for reform, without which he has said he would not campaign to keep his country in the EU. They are not extreme: a guarantee that non-eurozone members gain full access to the single market; less red tape at the EU level; a British exemption from “ever-closer union.” His last demand – fewer benefits for EU migrants – will be the hardest for EU leaders to accept.

Despite this reform push, some British Euroskeptics have criticized Cameron for being too soft. The temptation in Britain simply to abandon what appears to be a sinking ship and go it gloriously alone is growing stronger. This is understandable. The question is whether “Brexit” would be as glorious as its proponents like to imagine.

Unleashed from the rule of Brussels, the sirens of Brexit promise, Britain would once again be a beacon of freedom in the world, respected by China, tied to the United States in the bilateral “special relationship,” and all the while retaining friendly commercial ties with the European continent. Business would boom, the City of London would prosper, and Britons never would be slaves, not of the EU or anyone else.