May 23, 2019

The Asymmetrical Relationship of the UK and Europe

“A misguided narrative is taking hold about Brexit, both here and abroad. According to this argument, David Cameron called the 2016 referendum on whether Britain should remain a member of the European Union solely for party-management purposes. When he did, he unleashed a wave of atavistic xenophobia whipped up by the tabloid media, and uneducated, working-class Britons were consequently fooled by lies and false promises.

If only politicians hadn’t picked the scab, the country could have ticked along quite happily, so the conceit goes.

This interpretation might provide comfort to some, but it’s fundamentally specious. Put aside the fact that—even after accounting for the most illiberal remarks by some Brexit supporters—Britain remains one of the most tolerant countries in Europe. Ignore the sneer toward one person, one vote democracy implied by the argument above. By 2016, democratic legitimacy for Britain’s membership in the EU was clearly hanging by a thread. If the referendum hadn’t happened then, the problem wouldn’t have gone away. If anything, it would have festered.”

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