Britons did the unexpected yesterday and voted to leave the EU. As an American outsider, I wasn’t emotionally invested the way the British are, but I favored the Remain side. That said, Leave won and it’s time to assess the damage.
First, let’s say this: It’s not that bad. Many establishment types have tried to paint the EU as the author of the post-World War II peace in Europe. That’s malarkey. There are plenty of reasons Europe has remained at peace (mostly) since 1945. The main one was NATO, which kept the Soviets from sweeping up the other half of Europe and military and cultural exhaustion kept the West from driving them out. After the Soviets got the bomb, mutually assured destruction guaranteed European peace. It still does. That was true when Britain joined the EU in the 1970s. None of that changes now.
But what should happen next? David Cameron has already resigned, and Labor is looking to eject their parliamentary leader as well. The Scots are agitating for another referendum, despite the spectacular failure of the last one just two years ago. I think that’s a mistake now as I did then, but the prospect of a free Kingdom of Scotland under the heir of the Stuarts is tempting to anyone who loves Scottish history and culture. (They’re more likely to have a dysfunctional socialist republic made of 70s nostalgia and rapidly diminishing North Sea oil.)
The real question, for me, is what happens to Northern Ireland. Britain’s last major colony received more funds from the EU than any other part of the UK and voted 55-44 to remain in the EU. Northern Ireland’s six counties are poorer than the twenty-six counties of the Irish Republic, and that disparity will increase now. Reunion with the Republic has always been opposed by the slight majority of Irish Protestants who fear being subsumed in a Catholic nation (or so we assume, Britain has never allowed a referendum there). Losing out on the benefits of the EU may shift enough voters to effect an “Ulstrexit” from Britain, and realize the dream of centuries of Irish patriots.
Or maybe that’s just wishful thinking by an Irish-American. Even if I’m wrong on that point, I think we can all agree that the immediate future of Britain and Ireland just got a lot more interesting.