In a historic act of self-harm, the British electorate has chosen to leave the European Union. Brexit—as it is called—will do severe damage to the United Kingdom’s economy and its strategic interests. Brexit will also deal a heavy blow to the project of European integration. The EU will survive, but it will never be the same. Leaders of far-right parties across Europe cheered the referendum result, as did Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom’s allies shuddered, and financial markets in the country and across the world plummeted.
With negotiations beginning over the terms of the United Kingdom’s departure, much is uncertain. But one thing is clear already: the Leave campaign’s claim that the EU had robbed the United Kingdom of its sovereignty was false. If nothing else, the vote shows that the country was sovereign all along and that it was free to make disastrous decisions.
A TOXIC CAMPAIGN
The Leave victory marks the culmination of a poisonous debate. Although the Remain campaign was responsible for some distortions of its own—such as claiming that Brexit would make British households 4,300 pounds (over $5,000) worse off per year—the Leave campaign was premised on lies and empty promises. Proponents claimed that EU immigrants were to blame for the strains on Britain’s public services, when in fact they made net contributions to the Exchequer, to the tune of 20 billion pounds (over $27 billion) between 2000 and 2011. Leave stoked xenophobia, suggesting that the EU was opening the United Kingdom to a flood of refugees and would soon allow millions of Turks to immigrate to Britain. Neither was true. In fact, London had complete control over how many refugees the United Kingdom accepted. Turkey is not “set to join the EU” as the Leave campaign claimed, and in any case, Britain had a veto over Turkish membership.