At the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France, August 2019
Andrew Parsons / Reuters

On January 30, 2020, representatives from the European Union’s 28 member states gathered at the European Parliament, in Brussels, to approve the United Kingdom’s official exit from the EU. After the vote was cast, the parliamentarians from the 27 remaining members waved their British counterparts goodbye while singing “Auld Lang Syne,” the Scottish farewell song that celebrates lasting friendship and the passing from old times to new. Among the departing British, some wept tears of sorrow, others tears of joy. 

On the continent, most consider the British decision to leave a tragic mistake. Even so, the Brexiteers’ core contention—that the European Economic Community they joined in 1973 has grown far beyond an international union of sovereign states and into something far more ambitious and intrusive—is hard to deny. So is the claim that the EU’s own missteps in handling the process of European integration played some part in driving the

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  • MATTHIAS MATTHIJS is Associate Professor of International Political Economy at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and Senior Fellow for Europe at the Council on Foreign Relations.
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