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Britain in Search of a Country

LONDON – The Brexit vote has smashed much of the infrastructure of Britain’s economic and political relations with Europe and the world. Those who campaigned for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, largely on the basis of lies and delusion, have no idea what to do next. They are destroyers, not creators.

But now that we Brits have broken all the crockery in the shop, we have to piece together our national interest from the shards. All of us, led by a new and clever prime minister, Theresa May (who campaigned to stay in Europe), must do all we can to save our country from isolation and decline.

May has moved quickly to put in place a team to manage Britain’s divorce from the EU. It includes Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary, who will need no reminder of the old adage that diplomats are supposed to go abroad to lie for their country. His challenge will not only be his cavalier attitude to the truth, but also his record of insulting many of those – including US President Barack Obama and his possible successor, Hillary Clinton – with whom he will need to do business.

But more important than the team is the nature of the game they have to play. “Brexit means Brexit,” May has said. But what does that mean for our trade relations and our immigration policy? Are we committed to seeking access to Europe’s single market on something like our current terms? Will we be able to secure “passporting” rights for our banks and financial services, so that they can stay in Britain while operating in the rest of Europe? How can we secure any of these objectives without, like Norway or Switzerland, accepting the single market’s rules?