Britain’s Long Goodbye

The UK’s shocking vote to leave the EU continues to generate uncertainty at home and abroad, not least because of the rapid meltdown of British politics. The EU’s future remains in limbo, but the Union could thrive – if its leaders learn what they must from the Brexit calamity.

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Two weeks after Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union, the shock waves rumble on unabated. Prime Minister David Cameron’s resignation triggered a contest for the leadership of the Conservative Party that is as vicious and duplicitous as the “Leave” campaign. A bare-knuckle leadership fight has engulfed the opposition Labour Party as well. It is as though some atavistic contagion has now infected Britain’s political class.

Project Syndicate commentators have been asking just how far this infection may spread, and what its impact will be on Britain, Europe, and the wider world. Few have found anything remotely positive to say about the domestic, regional, and global consequences of Britain’s ill-conceived choice.

Fooled Britannia

Apparently stunned by the magnitude of what they had done, within hours of the announcement of the outcome of the June 23 “Brexit” vote, Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, the Leave campaign’s leaders (along with Nigel Farage of the UK Independence Party), began abandoning their promises. The government should take its time in negotiating Britain’s exit; there would not be £350 million ($453 million) a week to spend on the National Health Service; of course all EU migrants would be allowed to stay.

Their shameless retreat reflects the Leave campaign’s recklessness. But any effort to underplay the importance of the vote would be foolhardy. NYU’s Nouriel Roubini sees the Brexit vote as “the proverbial canary in the coalmine, signaling a broad populist/nationalist backlash – at least in advanced economies – against globalization, free trade, offshoring, labor migration, market-oriented policies, supranational authorities, and even technological change.”