British Decision to Leave EU Roils Western World

Britain’s vote to leave the European Union has shocked its allies. The Atlantic Sentinel provides live analysis.

British prime minister David Cameron and French president François Hollande pay their respects at the First World War memorial in Pozières, March 3
British prime minister David Cameron and French president François Hollande pay their respects at the First World War memorial in Pozières, March 3 (The Prime Minister’s Office/Georgina Coupe)
  • Britain shocked its allies on Thursday when it voted 52 to 48 percent in a referendum to leave the European Union.
  • The remaining 27 EU member states want Britain to make haste, but Prime Minister David Cameron has said he will not invoke Article 50, which regulates a country’s withdrawal from the bloc, at next week’s European Council.
  • Foreign ministers from the six founding nations of the EU agreed on Saturday that Europe needs to become more flexible to stem the continental tide of Euroskepticism.
Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 25, 20162:20 PM

Walter Russell Mead blames President Barack Obama for Britain’s vote to leave in The American Interest. This falls in the category of thinking nothing can happen in the world without it somehow being related to American policy decisions.

Mead disparages the president for “playing golf” when he should have worked to “prevent a damaging split between some of our most important partners and allies,” which is a little ridiculous. There was no way the United States could have inserted themselves in the negotiations that preceded the referendum. This was an internal EU affair. Obama did intervene once those negotiations were complete to urge Britons to vote to remain.

Mead’s larger point is that American engagement is a necessary though not a sufficient condition for European success. “When the Americans walk away, Europe tends to fail.” There’s something to that.

Click here for my take.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 25, 20162:30 PM

François Heisbourg reports from Paris that Britain’s decision to leave is a diplomatic disaster for France, Europe’s only other nuclear power.

Whitehall’s energies will be devoted to negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU over the next two years. That will distract its attention from the United Nations where Britain and France often work together as permanent members of the Security Council.

Click here to continue reading.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 25, 20163:07 PM

The Financial Times reports that some banks are already shifting operations out of the United Kingdom.

The big five American banks — Bank of America, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley — employs tens of thousands of people in Britain, many of them in London. “They are now preparing to shift some of this work to cities such as Dublin, Paris and Frankfurt.”

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 25, 20163:18 PM

European leaders are demanding that Britain invoke Article 50 of the EU treaty soon in order to begin the divorce proceeding.

David Cameron said on Friday that his successor, who should be in place by the time of the next Conservative Party congress in October, would start the two-year process of withdrawing Britain from the European Union, not him. But they don’t much like that idea on the continent.

Jean-Marc Ayrault, the French foreign minister, says designating a new prime minister doesn’t have to take more than “a few days”. It would not be respectful to the remaining 27 member states, he claims, to delay the process.

Ayrault’s German counterpart, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, has been a little more circumspect in his statements but agrees that the process “must begin as soon as possible, so we don’t end up in an extended limbo period.”

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said yesterday there is no reason to wait. “It doesn’t make any sense to wait until October to try to negotiate the terms of their departure,” he told ARD television. “I would like to get started immediately.”

There’s a bit of pique involved here, but it also makes sense that these countries don’t want to leave their own businesses and nationals, who may be trading with Britain or living there, in a prolonged period of doubt.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 25, 20163:23 PM

Britain’s European commissioner, Jonathan Hill, has resigned today while the deputy leader of the largest party in the European Parliament told EurActiv it would be “absurd” for Britain to still take over the rotating presidency of the EU in the second half of next year as planned.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 25, 20165:35 PM

Fascinating breakdown of the referendum results from The Guardian here, which shows you the deep split between city and countryside, between voters with higher education and without as well as the correlation between income and voting behavior.

In the same newspaper, also read John Harris’ report from different parts of Manchester: “If you’ve got money, you vote in. If you haven’t got money, you vote out.”

It’s The Guardian, so of course they blame Margaret Thatcher. This time, though, there’s something to it.

Brexit is the consequence of the economic bargain struck in the early 1980s, whereby we waved goodbye to the security and certainties of the postwar settlement and were given instead an economic model that has just about served the most populous parts of the country while leaving too much of the rest to anxiously decline.

It’s not like Britain had much of a choice. The “postwar settlement” had nearly ruined it. But it’s also clear now — and now just in the United Kingdom — that the decisions we’ve made across the Western world since then have created a deep division in our societies.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 25, 20165:47 PM

Kurt Volker, a former American ambassador to NATO, argues in The American Interest that the British referendum demonstrates just how deep the gulf has become that separates governing elites and the people they are meant to govern.

In Europe as well as the United States, he writes, “elites have pushed policies — political, economic and social — that go beyond what sits well with the basic sense of identity, security, common sense and morality of many citizens.” Examples include high immigration, the ill-fated Iraq War, outsourcing of jobs and rapid changes in gender norms. “It has left many in the electorate angry and disenfranchised.”

To be fair, most policies and arguments put forward by elites are compelling, according to Volker. “But leaders need to lead by listening and serving.”

If they continue to fail to address the genuine concerns of their own publics — and push this gulf even deeper — more “Brexits” will happen, whether than means the election of populist nationalist leaders, the rise of the far right or the departure of more countries from the European Union.

Those of us who would have been on the “remain” side in Britain need to give the other half of the population time to catch up. To the extent that we can, let’s slow things down, like immigration. On those issues where we can’t slow down or compromise, like globalization or liberal values, we need to do a better job at persuading people.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 25, 20165:52 PM

Andrew A. Michta, a professor of national security affairs at the United States Naval War College, argues that even if Britain’s exit doesn’t fundamentally alter the overall disparity between Europe and Russia, it will yield an increasingly inward-looking continent — and that helps Vladimir Putin.

As it continues to grapple with slow growth, migration and fiscal imbalances, Europe will need to tackle the very fundamentals of its mutual treaty obligation now that the United Kingdom is on its way out as well as the nature of Brussels’ relations with London going forward. Small wonder that Russian media greeted Britain’s vote to leave the European Union with schadenfreude, if not also outright glee.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 25, 20166:18 PM

Zack Beauchamp argues at Vox that the liberal world order depends on a bargain: “States give up little bits of sovereignty and in exchange they get access to organizations that make them much wealthier and much safer.”

Britain has now rejected that bargain.

At its best, the liberal world order creates a virtuous circle. “By keeping major powers united politically and keeping global markets open, these institutions reduced the incentive for conflict,” according to Beauchamp. “In the absence of major conflict, countries grew wealthier and more integrated, which in turn reduced the risk of conflict further.”

There is a risk Britain’s exit from the EU will do the opposite. In a vicious circle, it could inspire nativists elsewhere, damage the economy, which, in turn, only adds fuel to the populist flames.

Each shock undoes a bit of the global order, which makes people poorer and angrier, begetting more xenophobia and international tensions.

It’s a little alarmist. I still don’t see how Marine Le Pen could be elected president in France, for example, or how Donald Trump could win the elected in the United States. Sensible leaders, like Hillary Clinton and Angela Merkel, are popular enough to win or stay in power.

It will be incumbent on them, representing the decent, reasonable center, to put out the flames of discontent and make the argument for the things that have kept us safe and made us wealthy.

Aleksandar Malinov Aleksandar Malinov June 25, 20167:28 PM

I think this is a good summary of how Ukraine sees the situation:

The United Kingdom’s departure will reduce the counterweight to Germany’s leadership with the exclusive character of which a significant part of societies in the EU is not ready to concur with. Because of this, Germany will face expectations, demands and challenges yet unknown to German voters and institutions.

Raquel Perez June 25, 20169:36 PM

The Brexit victory can only be seen as an expression of discontent with the European Union and its managerial ways. Citizens want to have parliaments that act on their interests and national structures they can relate to. Leaders must respond to these demands or the entire EU project may be at risk.

This also means borders will have to change, from Scotland to Catalonia.

András Tóth-Czifra Andras Toth-Czifra June 25, 20169:42 PM

As I see it, the Brexit vote signaled the worrying deterioration of political discourse in the West.

While it would obviously be a mistake to blame it on Vladimir Putin, I am pretty sure that the Russian president rejoices in the result, not in the least because it is the first triumph of the sort of postmodern pseudo-politics that is hallmarked by his name and that aims to create a world where facts are irrelevant, truth is non-existent and where semblance and suspicion define the acts of a political community. I’d call it Putinism but it has different faces, variants and names throughout the world — from Viktor Orbán to Nigel Farage to Donald Trump.

Click here to read more.

András Tóth-Czifra Andras Toth-Czifra June 25, 20169:44 PM

As far as the immediate aftermath is concerned, I am confident that the EU will carry on after the initial shock.

There are two camps in Brussels: those who want to rush the negotiations and those who would like to take it slower. Angela Merkel, notably, belongs to the latter camp, even though her government is split on the issue.

While I strongly believe that, as Wolfgang Schäuble, Germany’s finance minister put it, an out vote must mean out and the EU simply cannot make any concessions to Britain on the issue of the single market, I am not sure if taking a hard line would produce the desired effect (punishing the United Kingdom to show Euroskeptics what leaving means) before the important elections in 2017.

I am not worried about Eastern Europe, since countries there are in a position that is very different from Britain’s (and leaders know this). But France is a matter of concern. Not because I think Marine Le Pen has a realistic chance to become the president, but because — as we have seen in Britain — weak leaders of the mainstream parties will commit terrible mistakes if they think that they are forced by the far right.

Nick Ottens Nick Ottens June 25, 20169:54 PM

Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister who now leads the liberal bloc in the European Parliament — and one of the most tone-deaf European federalists in town — has invited Nicola Sturgeon to discuss Scotland’s options.

For once, I sympathize with him — and Sturgeon. I opposed Scottish independence last time, seeing no rational benefits and only economic risk, but now the opposite is true. It’s the rest of Great Britain that has made an irrational decision. I can’t blame the Scots if they go their own way now, assuming they can get an agreement to remain in the EU.

Boris Ryvkin Boris Ryvkin June 25, 201611:00 PM

Britain’s vote to leave the EU is a triumph of democracy, populism, nationalism and good economics over corporatism and the bureaucratization of political decisionmaking.

From my perspective, this was another example of history coming full circle and away from failed attempts (particularly during the twentieth century) to force disparate nations, communities, cultures and countries together into artificial unions with imposed identities.

The Brexit vote was not a warning shot — France and the Netherlands rejected the 2005 EU constitution, Ireland was forced to vote again after rejecting the Lisbon Treaty in 2008, the Netherlands rejected the EU-Ukraine association agreement and Greece voted against the austerity and economic reform package recommended by the European Commission, the European Central Bank and the IMF. In each case, European federalists — committed to putting cynical personal interest and forced integration ahead of what free citizens wanted — ignored voters and pushed ahead with their plans.

Boris Ryvkin Boris Ryvkin June 26, 201612:25 PM

As far as short-, medium- and long-term ramifications, I agree with other contributors here that the status quo in the EU will remain in place over the next few months.

However, particularly in Denmark, Finland and the Netherlands, the pressure to hold referendums will now grow by several orders of magnitude.

Economic consequences for Britain will be volatile and problematic in the short term, but given the statements of continental manufacturers (e.g., Germany’s BDI) about the need to fast-track a trade agreement with Brussels, I do not believe the process to negotiate a deal will drag out the entire two-year period provided in the Lisbon Treaty even with a delayed British exit under Article 50.

The United Kingdom will regain most or all of its short-term losses when balanced with the value of what has been repatriated from Brussels and new trade opportunities. The real question is not whether Britain will survive and remain a financial center, G7 member and a top-five global economy, but whether the EU will exist in five or ten years. I am pessimistic and think at least three to five other current member states will hold referendums and some leave over the next five years.

In any event, if Brussels continues with business as usual, the speed of the EU’s disintegration will quicken.

Greg R. Lawson Greg Lawson June 26, 20168:31 PM

The United States are going to have to recalibrate their relations with Europe.

Britain’s exit will no doubt lead to calls for America to double down on its support for the EU and efforts such as the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. This should be reconsidered. While the United States should certainly not abandon these efforts entirely, they would do more damage by hectoring other countries to stay in as evidenced by the poor reception of President Barack Obama’s advice for Britain to vote “remain”.

Speaking more softly is better than panicking and sermonizing.

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