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The UK Opts Out: Four Major Effects

High time for a reality check on what the British vote really means – for the UK, Europe and the world.

July 1, 2016

Britain and the EU

1. Little England

Far from the grand promises of the Leavers, the sovereign choice of the British people will prove to be a boomerang.

A nation that always preferred to punch above its weight class, it will find its traditional immense pride in global status gravely diminished.

England will also come to realize that its past greatness did not rest so much on its own ingenuity, but rather its ability as an imperial trading nation to leverage the sweat of others for the benefit of domestic wealth (see India; see China; see Africa).

The interest in the preservation of global status may be rightfully characterized primarily as a concern of the country’s elites.

However, the majority of people who voted for the standalone island mentality will find that, left to its own devices, the UK will suffer.

That suffering will manifest itself not least as major global companies over time will no longer use the country as their primary EU operating basis.

2. Going after the wrong target

Britons, in their majority, falsely chose to blame Brussels. Since a sense of spreading economic uncertainty – which a majority of the population feels rather directly – ultimately determined the outcome of the vote, it would have been more appropriate to “blame” China.

That country, not the EU, is surely the major factor shifting global economic realities.

There is just one problem: In grand historic lines, after an absence of almost a century and a half, China is just trying to take its rightful place in the global economic firmament.

Lest we forget, China used to dominate the global economy until the English started the Opium Wars – a crude imperialist maneuver that, in its ultimate consequence, also delivered China into the hands of Communism and Maoism.

A particular irony of the Brexit campaign is that the Conservative government has even sought to cozy up to China.

In what may be a precursor of England pursuing special deals with countries around the globe, it sought to position itself as China’s preferred partner in Europe.

That is a difficult choice to make for a nation that had based its economic strategy more or less on de-industrialization.

Regardless, count on a rigorous display of Chinese pragmatism. The Chinese always like to exploit a weak target – with all the more delight as they see the UK, with good reason, as its former economic oppressor and a perpetrator of great historic injustices.

Even worse, they will now look at the UK – about to throw away its major economic asset, to be a convenient platform for access to EU market – more as a larger size Greece than an important partner.

3. Globalization in trouble?

Perhaps. But only for those who think very superficially. National solutions only go so far. The ultimate hope behind the Brexit vote – to turn back the clock – is not just wishful thinking. It is delusional.

For all the current worries about domino effects on other countries becoming keen to pursue an exit option of their own, the British example may serve as a “live” example on why not to opt for that choice.

There is next to no evidence or prospect that the UK will be better off economically once Brexit becomes a full-blown reality. That hope is resting on fumes.

Globalization is here to stay. To the extent it can be managed – and that must be the key goal of politicians and societies everywhere – that strategy is much more effectively executed as part of a larger group than as a stand-alone nation.

Yes, that implies the loss of sovereignty, but also a gain in terms of co-insurance.

4. Black Friday for Europe?

There is a great deal of hand-wringing in all quarters. How could we “sell” the EU better? Is the European Commission too arrogant and too removed from the people’s concerns? Do we have to reinvent Europe? Does it have to become more democratic, warm and fuzzy?

The answer to all those questions, of course, is yes. The only question is: What does that mean in the real world?

By necessity, Europe and the European Union are imperfect creations. But that is not a “failure of Europe,” as is so readily argued. Rather, it is part of the human condition.

We need to become mature enough to understand that perfection really isn’t an option. We need to understand that life is a sequence of – often painful – tradeoffs.

Nations are free to make their own sovereign choices. But they have to live with the consequences of those choices and votes.

Most simply put, whether one looks at the United States of America or Europe, globalization means rainy weather for many.

It exposes most people in Western societies to the uncomfortable realization that a direct feeling of insecurity is no longer just a concern of the “global South.”

The question is, to the extent that an “umbrella” can be provided, whether the nation state is really the best tool to offer that protection.


The sovereign choice of the British people will prove to be a boomerang.

The Chinese always like to exploit a weak target and the UK just made itself into a large Greece.

The ultimate hope behind the Brexit vote – to turn back the clock on globalization – is delusional.

It is easier for politicians to manage globalization's impacts if they work within groups instead of as lone nations.