Experts weigh in with their top three arguments on Britain’s so-called ‘Brexit’ vote: Why Britain should remain in the EU, why it should leave, and why America should care. The views expressed are their own.
Why it’s time for Brexit.
The vital issue at the heart of Brexit — whether Britain should exit the European Union — is simple. It’s not about money, trade, war, or immigration. It’s about democracy.
As long as Britain’s in the EU, it doesn’t govern itself. It doesn’t control its borders: The EU does that. It doesn’t make its own rules: The EU does that. Its laws can even be overturned by European judges.
Self governance. If Britain leaves the EU, it won’t turn its back on the world. It will stay in NATO, and all the other international organizations. It will still be the fifth biggest economy in the world. And once again, it will be a nation where its laws are only made by the elected representatives of the people. I believe those laws will be good. Britain is a decent place. If it can’t govern itself, there’s no hope for any of us. But even if those laws are bad, so what? I would rather be governed by bad laws that I can vote to change than by distant bureaucrats who claim they always know best.
Currency control. Of course, people are concerned about the practical results of leaving the EU. A second reason to leave is that it reduces the risks that the euro currency poses to Britain, which uses the pound. Today, almost all the rest of the EU either uses the euro or is pledged to do so. Going forward, the EU’s rules are going to be made to benefit the euro, as indeed they are today. Britain will have two options, both bad: suffer by obeying the rules or suffer by adopting the euro. Britain can’t totally insulate itself from the euro’s failures. Nor can the United States, for that matter. But Britain can keep control of its currency, and thereby avoid the worst risk, which is to be forced into a currency union with Europe on terms that don’t suit it.
Security. Third, there’s the issue of security. The EU isn’t a cause of Europe’s security: it’s an effect of it. The idea that Germany would attack France or that Austria would go to war against Italy were it not for the EU is laughable. The real threats to Europe’s security are abroad: in the Middle East and Russia. The only defense against those threats comes from NATO, which is the vital security link between the U.S. and Europe. Unfortunately, the EU views NATO as a rival. The EU wants to control the foreign and security policies of Europe by itself. A British exit from the EU would prevent Britain from being pulled into the EU’s schemes. Furthermore, without British resources, the EU would find it extremely hard to supplant NATO. The more the EU tries to do the job of defending Europe, the less safe we will all be.
But for me, it all comes to back to democracy. So for any American who doesn’t back Brexit, here’s my question: Would you like the United States to be part of a union of North and South America, subject to the supreme court of Venezuela and the bureaucrats of Belize?
Well, that’s the way the EU works. If you don’t like the sound of it, you should back Brexit.
Ted R. Bromund is senior research fellow in Anglo-American Relations in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom at The Heritage Foundation.
Why Britain should stay.
Critics of the EU argue that it is undemocratic, overly bureaucratic and unaccountable. Those criticisms aren’t entirely off the mark, but Brexit proponents haven’t built a convincing affirmative case on top of them.
There are several fundamental reasons to oppose Brexit despite the issues with the EU.
Economics. First, there is no reason to believe that Brexit would make Britain more prosperous in the long run. After all, a Brexit would not change Britain’s geography or its established trading partners — the EU as a bloc is Britain’s largest single trading partner, and will remain so regardless of the referendum’s outcome. Yet the EU will also want to discourage further exits in the wake of a Brexit. The easiest way to do so will be by making an example of the United Kingdom; using the continent’s much larger economic power to exact punishing concessions from Britain.
Nor will the United States prioritize the UK for trade agreements. As President Barack Obama noted during his visit to London in April, the agreement of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with the EU will simply be a higher priority than any new free trade agreement with the UK. The lengthy period of uncertainty while the UK negotiates its exit will also likely create turbulence in the British economy, with potential impact on markets worldwide.
Internal divisions. A Brexit would also exacerbate divisions between England and the other constituent nations of the UK, which are generally more pro-EU. Scotland held an independence referendum in 2014 and ultimately elected to stay within the UK, but nationalist sentiment there could be reawakened by Brexit. Meanwhile, the peace process in Northern Ireland could be shaken by a vote to leave the EU, especially since the Republic of Ireland will remain an EU member. The extent to which Brexit’s consequences fall unevenly across regions, with potentially greater impact on rural regions which currently receive large EU subsidies over the urban financial centers, could magnify this impact.
Political stability. Most fundamentally, there is the issue of overall European political stability. This may seem like an exaggerated concern, but our memories are short. Not so long ago, Europe was divided between NATO and the Warsaw Pact, and another war on the continent was anything but a theoretical possibility. Not so long before that, the continent was the site of the most violent armed conflict, and some of the worst atrocities, in modern history. Today’s relative calm isn’t a fluke; it’s a result of decades of hard and often contentious work toward European integration.
As an instrument for that integration, the EU is hardly ideal. It can be frustratingly bureaucratic and obtuse, and like other institutions, it is often reactive rather than strategic. But those criticisms should not distract from its underlying purpose: to force the nations of Europe to address their differences through negotiation and engagement rather than open conflict. Leaving the EU would be a massive step backwards from that overriding goal.
Jacob Parakilas is assistant head of the U.S. and the Americas Program at Chatham House. He has previously worked for Action on Armed Violence and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.
Why America should care.
It is easy to forget the importance of stability in Europe for the United States. But it is only easy to forget because the post-war European and Transatlantic institutions have worked so well at providing that stability. Brexit would be a destabilizing force in Europe, and the domino effect that could follow would be catastrophic for the United States.
The European Union (and NATO) were designed to bind Europe together, both to prevent another war on the continent and to contain the Soviet Union. The idea of a war between the Western European powers is particularly unthinkable, but the history of the region is one wracked by devastating wars. And while war on the continent is a very low probability, confrontation with Russia is significantly more likely.
Twenty-five years after the end of the Cold War, Russia again threatens Europe. It has invaded an EU neighbor, launched cyber-attacks and cross-border kidnappings against Estonia, and violated NATO airspace all along the alliance’s Eastern border. Vladimir Putin has been pushing against Europe looking for weaknesses to exploit and testing Europe’s resolve. If it seems unlikely that aggression in the Baltics will be met with a unified response, then it becomes more likely that Russia will take further aggressive action. The Brexit would cause disunity at precisely the time unity is needed most.
The EU binds Europe together economically and politically. A unified Europe, allied with the United States, is important for American economic and political interests. The common European market streamlines trade negotiations between the U.S. and its European partners; and America has few allies closer than Britain with which it can both partner on international issues and call on for support in major international institutions. The U.S. may be close to its European partners, but the UK is the only major European ally on which it can count to advocate for the American position within the EU.
And with the potential of a Donald Trump presidency, a potential Brexit poses an even greater threat to the America-led, post-war international order. NATO both binds Europe together and to the United States, and it is important for American national security interests — no matter what Trump may tell you. His statements about NATO, and the real possibility that he would order a U.S. withdrawal from Eastern Europe, makes the effects of a Brexit even more severe and dramatically increases the potential for war in Europe.
Trump’s view seems to be, «What do we care if Russia takes Eastern Europe?» But there is only one existential threat to the United States, and that is Russia. It is very much in our interest to keep Russia contained — and a Brexit would only benefit Russia and weaken the institutions that contain it.
Jonathan Cristol is a fellow at the World Policy Institute and senior fellow at Bard College’s Center for Civic Engagement.