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Britain Enters the Unknown

Compared to the threats posed by climate change and China’s hostility to liberal democracy, the consequences of Brexit may seem far less significant. But the United Kingdom has chosen an odd and dangerous time to decide to go it alone.

LONDON – A history teacher at my school believed that every great event in the past should be approached on the basis of a tripartite analysis of its causes, pretexts, and results. He would list these in columns on the blackboard, and we would then have to learn them by heart: the causes of the eighteenth-century War of the Spanish Succession, the pretexts for the French Revolution, the results of the American War of Independence, and so on.

Of course, life and further study teach us that things are not that simple. Causes can be a combination of accident, ambition, and coincidence, together with more profound economic, social, and technological changes. Results can be equally difficult to gauge neatly. After all, history rarely brings closure, and it is hard to know when the effects of a great event begin and end.

In that regard, the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union at 23:00 GMT on January 31 is probably the most important national political event in my lifetime. Enthusiastic Brexiteers are furious that Big Ben, the Westminster Parliament’s iconic clock, cannot sound to mark this event because of long-overdue repairs. They act as though this were yet another grievance to add to the long list that has sustained their campaign.

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