Europe After Brexit

A Less Perfect Union

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Theresa May address a news conference following talks at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, July 2016. Stefanie Loos / Reuters

The United Kingdom’s vote to leave the European Union has triggered the worst political crisis the EU has ever faced. Since the early 1950s, the EU has steadily expanded, but on June 23, 52 percent of British voters ignored the experts’ warnings of economic misery and opted to leave the bloc. At the annual British Conservative Party conference in October, Prime Minister Theresa May promised to invoke Article 50, which formally begins negotiations and sets a two-year deadline for leaving the EU, by March 2017. Now, given her determination to regain control of immigration and the stiffening resolve of other EU leaders to make an example of the United Kingdom, a so-called hard Brexit—an exit from both the single market and the customs union—is looking increasingly likely. This prospect should lay to rest the once dominant idea that European integration is an irreversible process.

When the United Kingdom leaves, as it

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