I feel badly for the people of the United Kingdom. Brexit – the move to withdraw the UK from the European Union – has left the United Kingdom anything but united. Even families are being ripped apart. The most notable involves Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s own family. His brother Jo (a fine fellow whom I met several years ago) resigned his seat in Parliament and his place in his brother’s cabinet because he wanted to remain and Boris wants to leave.
There are solid arguments in favor of both “remain” and “leave.”
On the “remain” side are British businesses that have developed consumer markets and supply chains on the continent, and don’t want them disrupted. Also, Brits who travel – professionals, artists, tourists, etc. – don’t want to lose the convenience of quick, hassle-free passage from country to country that EU membership gives them. Perhaps most profoundly, Brits aware of the long history of war between their ancestors and continental powers are understandably reluctant to abandoned the peaceful post-war order which was established on a foundation of liberal trade and commerce between the erstwhile belligerents.
On the “leave” side are Brits who have suffered economic losses at the hands of the EU bureaucracy in Brussels. EU edicts have shut down or greatly curbed certain British industries (notably, the fishing industry), depriving some Brits of their livelihood. What is especially galling to these victims is the loss of their traditional rights as British citizens. Unlike the British government, the EU power structure is essentially impenetrable, unaccountable, and undemocratic. (Search online for “Brexit, the movie” – a stunning exposé of the structure and power of the European supra-state.)
The other important issue to “leavers” is their perception that the United Kingdom has lost control over immigration. Millions of poor people bearing EU passports have poured into the country. One casualty of this human flood has been that the British healthcare system is severely stressed. Waits for treatment keep getting longer. My daughter, who lives in London, reported that the massive influx of immigrants into her district has resulted in there being only seven physicians to care for 63,000 people. In the longer term, the very nature and culture of Britain could be swept away on this tide of immigrants who have no real understanding or acceptance of traditional British values and the culture they spawned.
Obviously, it’s for the British people to choose their course, but from my perspective on this side of the Atlantic, whatever short-term advantages currently enjoyed by the “remainers” are more than offset by the long-term dangers that the “leavers” have cited. Politically, Brits are gradually losing their traditional system of accountable, close-to-home representative government to unaccountable, offshore, faceless bureaucracies. Further, their standards of living and their traditional cultural identity are at risk from waves of foreigners eager to feast on the subsidized healthcare and other benefits that generations of Brits have produced.
The greatest potential danger from Brexit would be if trade between the UK and the EU broke down. Such an outcome must be avoided at all costs for the sake of peace and prosperity both in the UK and on the continent. If the UK busts out of the Maastricht Treaty (the EU’s charter) negotiations for new trade agreements immediately should be given top priority for expedited passage and rapid implementation. The commercial bonds that have kept Europe at peace for over 70 years must be preserved.
It will be fascinating to see the official policy response of the EU should Brexit indeed happen this fall. The Eurocrats might be tempted to try to punish Brits for leaving the EU. They might want to send a clear message to other restless member-states that any attempt to secede would be costly, painful, and not worth doing. However, such aggressive machinations could backfire on the EU. If the EU’s response to a UK exit is overtly punitive and hostile, then other member-states might wake up to the dangers of power being progressively concentrated in Brussels and demand their own independence.
For now, though, all eyes are on the UK. The British people face a momentous decision with existential implications for their culture, economy, and political system. May wisdom guide them.
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