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Brexit diminishes Britain and threatens European security

Brexit takes Britain into uncharted, stormy seas.
(David Horsey / Los Angeles Times)

Fifty-two percent of voters in the United Kingdom have decided to take a huge risk that may in the end turn Great Britain into Small England and shatter the international consensus that has given Europe more than three generations of peace.

Last Thursday, the Brits approved a referendum to take their country out of the 28-member European Union. The day after, “European Union” became the two most searched-for words on Google in the U.K., suggesting a lot of people were trying to figure out what they had just done. The immediate effect of what they did was to drive the British pound down to a record low against the U.S. dollar and provoke a big drop in the stock market. The long-term effects may prove to be far worse.

Once the separation between the E.U. and the U.K. is completed in about two years, British businesses will lose insider access to the biggest market in the world, continental Europe, and Europe’s financial center will move from London to Germany. Before then, the British economy is expected to slip into a recession. Beyond that lie uncharted, dark waters.

Those are just the economic costs. There are other outcomes from the vote that may prove even worse.

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For one thing, there is the stunted future for the 75% of young Britons who voted to remain part of a united Europe. A commentator on the Financial Times website said, “The younger generation has lost the right to live and work in 27 other countries. We will never know the full extent of lost opportunities, friendships, marriages and experiences we will be denied. Freedom of movement was taken away by our parents, uncles and grandparents in a parting blow to a generation that was already drowning in the debts of its predecessors.”

More worrisome, “Brexit,” as the British exit from the EU has been dubbed, will almost certainly guarantee a second Scottish referendum on independence. The independence push fell short last year, but, with 62% of Scots voting to stick with the EU, the scales may this time tilt toward separation from England and integration with Europe. The preference of voters in Northern Ireland was also pro-Europe, in part because Brexit will end the open border with the Republic of Ireland. If Scotland leaves and the equilibrium in Northern Ireland is shaken, Queen Elizabeth’s once-united realm will be seriously diminished. Some are already starting to question whether a more isolated, not-so-Great Britain will deserve a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.

This is not such good news for the United States. The U.K. has been America’s staunchest ally for generations and a strong voice within European councils for policies and values that reinforce American interests. Now, that voice will be silenced. For Americans, that is not the worst of it, though. The worst would be if Brexit empowers nationalists and immigrant bashers in other European countries to push for dismemberment of the EU. Already, right-wingers in France and the Netherlands are demanding their own referendums on pulling out of Europe. If Europe fractures into a collection of self-interested, mostly small countries, the world economy will suffer and United States will have lost its most powerful partner in the defense of liberal, democratic values in a world riven by ruthless, anti-modern ideologies and powers.

Yes, the EU bureaucracy is too elitist and unresponsive. And, yes, there are serious social, economic and security problems caused by the movement of workers within Europe and the influx of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. Those issues were at the core of the pro-Brexit complaint. But better to face those challenges together than separately.

Citizens of the United Kingdom — or, more precisely, big majorities of voters outside the cities in England and Wales — got it into their heads that their world would be made simpler and better by making it smaller and more separate. Let us hope those beyond British shores do not duplicate their folly.

David.Horsey@latimes.com

Follow me at @davidhorsey on Twitter


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