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The UK and the EU Should Prevent Mutual Assured Damage

Assuming Brexit happens, future historians will probably remember 2020 as the year when an enfeebled and vulnerable Europe chose to make itself feebler and more vulnerable. The task for its leaders now is to avoid making matters even worse.

PARIS – Nothing can be taken for granted in the United Kingdom these days, but it is now very likely that 2020 will be the year when Brexit finally happens. A majority of UK citizens will probably be relieved to bring this seemingly endless agony to a close, while most European leaders will likely be glad not to have to argue over another postponement. But questions will remain.

To the question of “Who lost Britain?”, the answer must be, first and foremost, Britain itself. Whatever mistakes the European Union’s other 27 members may have made, they cannot be held responsible for the extraordinary behavior of the UK’s three equally amateurish governments of the last five years.

Yet, there are deeper lessons to be drawn from what happened in Britain. The first, as Wolfgang Münchau pointed out in the Financial Times, is that the battle in the UK over EU membership was lost long before it was fought. Since the 1990s, leading pundits and media outlets have routinely portrayed the EU as a stifling bureaucracy obsessed with expanding its own power; few senior politicians have dared to confront such prejudices.

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