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By Jim Kempton
The United Kingdom’s dramatic departure from the European Union was unexpected, but certainly the fears and resentments that fueled it were not. Anti-immigration alarm, xenophobia and distrust in elected government are on the rise everywhere; and much of the trepidation is understandable.
The interesting question about Britain’s exit from the EU is what is not being asked. News coverage is primarily focused on how the Brits will fare and how the rest of Europe will deal with them. Whether the British will do better or worse is not critical; they are a plucky, resourceful lot, no doubt they will continue “muddling through,” as Englishmen describe their strongest virtue. Nonetheless, there is a huge risk involved in the decision to leave: the United Kingdom—Great Britain—may find itself neither united nor great.
If a defiant Scotland and Northern Ireland (who both voted overwhelmingly to stay in) maintain their EU statuses, the UK will be splintered; no longer able to control their most porous borders—those just to the north of them in their own islands. What if Britain is not able to create the better deal Brexit proponents assume? Should recession or worse befall their nation they now have nowhere to turn.
If Britannia negotiates better deals by being out of the EU, (as the proponents of secession argue) would not Greece, Spain, Portugal, Slovakia and Croatia consider renegotiating their deals—debts that if they were defaulted could crash the entire world economy? Not a good scenario for the U.S.
The real worry is how this departure affects the rest of the world—the one Britain used to help lead. Removing itself from the open, friendly, unified Europe could easily destabilize a vulnerable international marketplace where progress in economic growth buttresses democratic institutions like rule of law and elected representatives.
A worldwide financial collapse would batter America—and we would have little ability to control the damage. Of course the U.S. may initially benefit from increased instability since historically other nations have put their money in a safe place called America. But a world in amplified chaos is hardly what our nation needs. Imagine South America, Asia and Africa with the volatility of the Middle East.
Interestingly, three-fourths of young people under 24 years of age voted to stay with Europe while two-thirds of those over 65 voted to leave. In fact, the measure did not have majority with any voters below the age of 65. So the retired geriatrics sold the next generation a future they don’t want. The old folks will only briefly inhabit this new deal and will more than likely not suffer the inevitable longterm downside of their caprice.
England’s older generation chose to remove themselves from pragmatic responsibility of our fragile global market on the assumption that they will have more for themselves. It is not only a risky bet; it is a selfish position from one of the world’s leading nations for over three centuries. British institutions brought Western values to much of the planet. Before the U.S., they were the world’s foremost superpower.
The unalterable reality is that we are now a global village, like it or not. Lamentably, one of the strongest leaders just took their ball and went home.
Many in the U.S. are calling for the same action here. No one would consider us great for doing so. The world would not be a safer place, the U.S. would not be a stronger nation, the economies of our partners would not be more stable. But in a social order where fear, narcissism, selfishness, ignorance, greed and resentment seem to be the reigning virtues, it would not surprise anyone.
Jim Kempton is a writer and surfer from San Clemente. He knows we should never attribute malice to what can be explained by stupidity.