Copyright © 2016 by Thomas Gangale
As an international relations scholar with a Wilsonian internationalist leaning, I watched the Brexit returns with a sinking heart as the gap widened in favor of Leave. I think it's a huge mistake for the UK, for Europe, and for the global order.
First of all, the UK did not vote to Leave; England and Wales did, but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to Remain. I view the specter of another Scottish referendum on independence with considerable alarm. While I think a border vote in Ireland is improbable due to too much history of sectarian strife, there's no reason why Ulster couldn't be independent of both the UK and the Irish Republic if it were an EU member. The UK might end up being only England and Wales, and they will have inflicted that on themselves.
At the same time, the Brexit vote was a very badly needed wakeup call to the eurocracy. Sweeping reform is needed and soon. Let's hear it for the reboot. Talk of preceding with even tighter integration now that the UK is leaving is unrealistic and would lead to other exits. It would be too much of a shock to the system. Adding all of the Eastern European members so rapidly has been enough of a shock, really too much if it has led to Brexit. Not that EU expansion into Eastern Europe was a bad move. It had to be done. It was the logical consequence of the fall of the Berlin Wall. But now is the time to take a step back, take a deep breath, and reassess the situation.
If Brexit has left the EU badly wounded, Frexit would be the coup de grace. The EU without the UK and France would leave Germany and a bunch of countries whose fear of German domination would motivate the dissolution of the EU. The genius of the European integration project, much of it motivated by Germany, is that Germany deliberately embedded itself in international institutions to make the inevitable postwar resurgence of its economy safe for other European states. Intertwining the German economy with the French and Italian economies was the best hope for peace. You don't hear too many mainstream German politicians whining about loss of sovereignty, et cetera, because they know the score: Germany occupies too large and too powerful a place in the heart of Europe for anyone to be comfortable about it having full sovereignty. Lord Acton's famous aphorism about NATO was that its purpose was to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down. The EU also serves to constrain Germany. Removing the constraints would be disastrously destabilizing. The damage that Brexit has done is to remove some constraints. Germany depended on the UK as a counterweight to its soft power within the EU.
But, I wonder whether Brexit is a done deal. Someone needs to pull the Article 50 trigger, and it's not clear who will do it or when that person will do it. There is the question of whether Parliament must approve such an action by the prime minister. The overwhelming majority of MPs oppose Brexit. The question is whether they would vote the will of the people or vote their personal convictions. In the play "1776," Dr. Lyman Hall remarks to the Continental Congress that Georgia is split down the middle on the question of independence from Britain: "The people are against it and I'm for it." He ponders the question of whether he owes the people only his industry in representing their desires or also his own experience and judgment. It's a question with which every politician must struggle. Going against the will of the majority is always a brave thing to do, and sometimes it is the right thing to do. The wisdom of the people's representative is the only insurance against the people's foolishness. That's where Robespierre went wrong, to his ultimate regret. If Westminster voted against pulling the Article 50 trigger, what would be the political blowback? A shade less than 52 percent voted to Leave. Of those, many are already experiencing voter's remorse and would not be sad to see their vote reversed by their MP, a small minority would be angry enough to vote against their MP in the next election, and the rest would just grumble. This would especially be true if the next few months were to be spent cutting a new deal to make remaining in the EU palatable to most Leavers. The UKIP campaigned primarily on the immigration issue. Fix that problem and take the wind out of the Leavers' sails. The dumbest thing for EU leaders to be saying is, "Stand not upon the order of your going, but go at once!" And, speaking of the Scottish play, there is also the question of whether the Scottish Parliament can block Brexit.
Finally, the two-year period of exit negotiations specified by Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, together with the four months' delay before David Cameron's successor at Number 10 pulls the trigger. suggests that there is ample time to organize a second Brexit vote in the hope of reversing the first vote before that first vote can take any legal effect.
Thomas Gangale's Lies and Politics