2nd July 2016
Britain has voted to leave the EU and this is seemingly irreversible. But the million-dollar question is what should come next.
The result of the referendum was close. This is particularly unfair on the young and on the people in major urban centres who have overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU. It furthermore seems that most young people in Britain, as elsewhere, have become accustomed to (and taken for granted) being part of a greater European entity, with all its benefits and imperfections. The older generations were obviously more sceptical.
Any statesman-like future British leader must take the outcome of the referendum in consideration before they commence negotiations with the EU. The stakes could not be any higher.
The first question is what happens to Britain. This is impossible to answer, certainly at the moment. The very future of the union is at stake because Scotland and Nothern Ireland have voted to remain and there have already been calls for a second independence referendum in Scotland.
Britain will hopefully avoid a massive economic shock. Moreover, British people have a glorious history of innovation and creativity. With favourable circumstances and with good people in charge, the country may yet emerge relatively unscathed or even better off in some aspects. Nobody is saying or wishing Britain to become a pale shadow of what it used to be and still is. There will, however, be a choice to make. What sort of future relation with the EU can Britain secure for itself? It is difficult to believe that both access to the single European market – which everyone agrees is quite vital – and full immigration control can be secured. There are encouraging noises from Germany about an ‘associate membership’ but time will tell whether this is realistic. Both Britain and Europe should reflect and carefully plan ahead.
What is almost certain is that Britain will be undermined politically. With little or no clout in Europe, it will become far less interesting to the US. Nothing but lip service can be expected from other great powers – if that.
As for the EU, an uncertain future awaits. Those who say that Europe needs to reform or be destroyed are patently right. There is a great schism between politicians and ordinary people fed up with uncertainties, rapid change and, above all, immigration. They must not all be dismissed as reactionary xenophobes. Some may have very legitimate concerns concerning their towns, neighbourhoods, job prospects and issues relating to social cohesion and cultural compatibility. The people should be listened to, quite literally. If reducing or temporarily halting immigration is what is required to bring back trust in politics at both national and European levels, than this is what should happen, provided there are viable alternatives. We must do literally everything we can to help people fleeing unspeakable tragedies, but we should also be honest and say that nobody would benefit if the European Union is destroyed in the process. The populist menace on the right and on the left is already here.