Opinion Why There Should Be No Exit from Brexit

Brexit has plunged British politics into a state of chaos. Will the country now choose to remain in the European Union? The odds of that happening are rising, but it wouldn't be a good idea -- neither for Britain nor for the EU.

Hopelessly split: Pro-EU and Pro-Brexit protesters in London

Hopelessly split: Pro-EU and Pro-Brexit protesters in London

A Commentary by

For two years, the British government has been negotiating the terms of its withdrawal with the European Commission, and now Prime Minister Theresa May is unable to secure a majority for that deal in parliament. The more chaotic things get in London, the more tempting it will become for the country to exit from Brexit through the emergency door the European Court of Justice unlocked on Monday when it declared that the British government could unilaterally move to revoke Article 50. A second referendum that would provide democratic legitimacy to that step seems increasingly likely.

But such a move could potentially have graver consequences than an orderly Brexit -- both for Britain and the EU.

A Possible Boost for the EU's Foes

There's a good and perhaps even compelling argument for a second referendum: Now that a deal with the EU is on the table, voters would at least finally know what it is they were voting on. In the first referendum in June 2016, that wasn't even remotely the case.

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But the campaign ahead of a second referendum would in all likelihood be even more xenophobic and hate-filled than the first. That could in turn produce a British society that is even more divided than it already is today, particularly given that recent polls show the pro-EU camp winning a second referendum by a narrow margin. This time, however, it is likely that the losers would be even angrier and more disappointed than the losers of the first vote. Many would feel that their long-desired Brexit had been stolen from them and would turn away from democracy in frustration. It would provide a significant boost to anti-European right-wing populists.

And this would lead to problem No. 2: Such an outcome would also be uncomfortable for the rest of the EU. The European bloc is currently desperately seeking to find common ground on important policy areas including economic and monetary union, defense and immigration. A Britain that is hopelessly divided on domestic policy could cause significant damage were it still an EU member state.

A Divided Britain Would Be a Difficult EU Partner

EU-hostile media and right-wing populists have been going after British governments since long before the Brexit referendum. One can only imagine what they might do if the Brexit they fought for with almost religious fervor were to be reversed. The British government would surely face massive resistance each time it took a step toward deeper integration with the EU.

Of course, the idea that British political clowns like Boris Johnson, Nigel Farage and Jacob Rees-Mogg might receive their comeuppance in a second referendum is certainly tempting to some in the EU, as is the prospect of keeping a major country like Britain in the club. But it would be better for all concerned if the country first spent a few years outside the union.

There is almost nothing to suggest at the moment that these years would be pleasant. Britain would hardly have much of a voice amid the large power blocs of the United States, China and the EU. Furthermore, if Britain were to ultimately accept the EU deal, it would still be years before the country was allowed to negotiate trade deals of its own -- and those treaties would take several more years to finalize. It seems unlikely that the British would be able to secure more favorable conditions than the much larger EU.

In the best-case scenario, Britain would then apply to rejoin the EU -- after coming to the realization that not everything about the EU is bad and that Britain itself is no longer a world power.

That, though, is a conclusion that a large majority of the the British voters have to arrive at themselves. As the experiences of the past two years have shown, they're not there yet.


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markskoda 12/15/2018
1. The Brexit referendum.
Referenda decisions are for politicians to obey. It's the expressed will of the people. The Brexit referendum produced a clear majority to leave the E.U. The turnout at over 72% was significantly higher than in a general election; possibly because people felt that their individual vote counted whereas the first past the post system for electing M.P.s leaves many unrepresented. This gave the result added weight. Britain like all European countries has its own distinctive culture and feel. It is not a federalist leaning country. Witness the U.K.'s membership of The Commonwealth. A grouping of 53 disparate countries in various stages of economic and political development, involving 2.4 billion people, most under the age of 30, and certainly not a Federation. General de Gaulle, for whatever reason, analysed this correctly and voted against the U.K.'s entry into "The Common Market". As an Anglo German I have a deep love of both very different countries. How I voted is irrelevant. I accept the referendum result.
mundysfarm 12/17/2018
2. Brexit
Brexit is not the cause...it is the Symptom. And exit Brexit would relieve us of the symptom... But the reasons for this lie as far back as the Middle Ages... The City of London and it curious status and its need to stay out of fiscal scrutiny and the British tax free overseas assets are the reason why this was cobbled up. Rather incompetently, I have to say... They are chucking out the baby with the bath water, and the financial sector in London that pushed for less control and oversight will suffer by not being able to compete as freely as those companies that are based elsewhere...
zieglerm 12/17/2018
3. Another pro Brexit is
that the UK would hardly get the same favorable terms again that they have arrived at by the blackmailing from Thatcher. I was always against the Brexit but after seeing the way that British politicians have behaved the last two years I have changed my mind: The loss of the UK will be the long term gain of the EU. A EU without the UK can be more reliable, more trustworthy and much more progressive, especially after parties like the CSU in Germany, who have build large political campaigns on the EU bashing, now had to face the fact that the fate of the EU is closely tied to their own fate.
captaink999 12/19/2018
4. State of Brexit
Mr Becker, your article of course is from the German point of view and that is quite understandable, however can I make a few observations. As I am sure you know and as we are witnessing all over Europe there is a massive and growing anger against established parties who are seen to have abandoned their traditional support bases. This results in voters seeking alternatives. The EU is perceived an large parts of the UK and probably elsewhere as an Federation project and voters are rejecting the loss of sovereignty that this entails. I lived in the UK in the seventies and I thought the UK was signing up to a trade bloc not a Federation. There may well be Xenophobes in the 'Leave' movement but that is not the basic reason for the Brexit vote. 'Hate filled' and 'Xenophobic' are abusive terms and you demean yourself by using them. Referring to certain British political figures as clowns is funny when we have the figure of Jean Claude Juncker looming over the discussions. Maybe Germans don't do irony. If the EU had given David Cameron something to take back to the British people then none of this would be happening. The EU mishandled this in a spectacular fashion. The Brexit negotiations on the British side have also been appallingly mishandled. The EU is a large and very complex structure that is slowly fracturing. If you don't see this, you are in denial. It will not exist in its present form once the coming financial reckoning has finished with the World. Your remarks about the UK needing a few years of punishment in the wilderness is a standard Euro-centric sneer. Maybe the UK will be hurt, but leaving is what the voters wanted and that is what they should get.
edmail42 12/20/2018
5. Brexit
It is rare that I disagree with Der Spiegel but on this occasion I do. It is my belief that what is best for Europe and what is best for the UK at the moment is that Brexit be cancelled immediately. Nobody will be displeased with that decision, least of all the German business community, and then the organisers of Brexit should be held to account for what they have done. It is my opinion that they have committed treason.
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