BRUSSELS – British voters’ choice to leave the European Union is unfortunate, but unsurprising. For decades, British politicians have avoided making the case for EU membership, or even explaining to the British people how the Union works and why it is necessary.
Throughout his premiership, David Cameron failed to show any leadership or willingness to engage in a meaningful way with the EU. One foot was always out the door as he repeatedly railed against faceless bureaucrats in Brussels. Sadly, his last-minute attempt to defend EU membership during the Brexit campaign was not enough to undo the effects on British public opinion of decades of lies.
Britain has chosen isolation in Europe, against the advice of its friends and allies. Now that its post-imperial decline is complete, the most important lesson to take away from the “Brexit” referendum that sealed its fate is that one cannot defeat nationalism by pandering to nationalists. If the EU wants to tackle the strains of nationalism that are undermining its very raison d'être, it will have to listen to people’s concerns and offer a radical new vision for effective governance. Otherwise, the nationalist cancer will spread.
To begin with, the remaining EU countries must now uphold European law and push for a quick and clean divorce. The United Kingdom’s citizens voted to leave, and its political leaders insist that they will respect the referendum’s outcome, so it is not “punishment” to insist that they do so as soon as possible. If British inaction causes Europe to continue to suffer economically from political uncertainty, a full separation should be carried out unilaterally.