LONDON – Political earthquakes don’t get much bigger than this. The United Kingdom’s shocking vote to leave the European Union threatens to break up Britain, further unravel the EU, and destabilize the West. It creates a gaping crack in the liberal international order painstakingly built by American and European leaders since World War II. Worse, it does so at a time when that structure faces severe threats from Vladimir Putin’s Russia and violent extremist groups like the Islamic State.
Moreover, the “Brexit” vote could presage a broader nationalist, anti-establishment, anti-immigration backlash in many of the world’s democracies. Arriving in Britain on June 24, Donald Trump, the presumptive Republican nominee in November’s US presidential election, was quick to exult that Britons “took their country back.”
But back to what? Quoting Winston Churchill, Chris Patten, Chancellor of Oxford University, says that “the trouble with committing political suicide is that you live to regret it.” The question now is whether the UK’s apparent death wish also drags down the EU, NATO, and the global economy.
Project Syndicate’s commentators bring to the issue a global perspective that was notably lacking in Britain’s insular debate about its relationship with “Europe.” They examine not only the fallout from “Brexit,” but also how the UK arrived at this point and what the decision to leave will mean for Europe’s future and that of the West.