[See update at bottom. – J.E.]
In the United Kingdom’s watershed Brexit vote, Brexit (“leave the EU”) took an early and sustained lead, but has
yielded in the last half hour to a narrow lead for Bremain. No, Brexit just took the lead again, about 20 minutes ago. Even with 42% of the vote counted, prior polls put Brexit and Bremain neck and neck, so it’s too early to call the race.
A handful of eastern counties came in “Brexit” unexpectedly, and BBC said an hour ago that it looked like Wales would go Brexit too (later reporting bears that out) — defying earlier predictions that Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland would all go Bremain. In England, Brexit is up nearly 55% to just over 46% for Bremain, a margin than many observers are calling surprising. The very strong showing for Bremain in Scotland, Northern Ireland, and the London metro seems to be driving Bremain overall.
The Brexit vote has major import, although less for the health of the EU than for what its path to unsustainable irrelevancy will be. If the Brits pull out of the EU, well, France and Germany don’t necessarily like each other that much. In the long term, the centripetal forces of dissatisfaction on the edges — Poland, the financially wobbly PIGS, the Russophile Slavs in the southeast, the general and growing worries about Turkey and unchecked migration from Asia and Africa — will drive bigger and bigger wedges between Berlin and Paris (and Brussels and The Hague, for that matter). Without the idea of an overarching condominium with Britain, Germany and France don’t have as much in common as the long post-1945 hiatus has made people assume they do. If there’s no “EU-3,” Russia and China and some new scheme for the Eastern hemisphere as a whole start to look more interesting.
Ultimately, it’s been U.S geopolitical leadership that has made it safe and low-cost for Europe’s biggest, most powerful nations to buy into subordinating their own interests to a collective idea. The momentum for Brexit is coming from multiple sources, to be sure: a longstanding, ornery British independence; growing voter concerns over excessive regulatory centralization in Brussels; the migration crisis affecting voter sentiment all across the continent. But the abrupt removal of American leadership under Obama has made a lot of big things look different, to everyone on the planet, and for a larger number of Brits than anyone would have thought possible 20 years ago, that includes the costs and benefits of membership in the European Union.
The EU is not an organization that could collapse overnight, nor do I think a catastrophic collapse is in its future. If the Brits vote out, though, an era will be ended, and the EU will have to adjust. Rebrand, rethink, rejigger. The recognition that this is necessary will come slowly, as all the while shortsighted people will insist that no adjustment is happening or is necessary. Such is human life. The same thing is happening to the political parties in the United States — and is likely to happen to America’s central government, regardless of who is elected in November. We live in interesting times.
If the Brits vote in, the most likely reaction of the EU is the same reaction we can expect in the U.S. if Hillary Clinton is elected. People desperate to avert change will gloat that the voters want what they do, and will double down on all their worst policies. Those policies themselves will continue to be the cause of most of our problems. The cracks in society and the rule of law will widen. Things will get worse, at a rate at least as fast as what we are seeing now. There is no true refuge in trying to hang onto the old status quo, but a win for Bremain will seem briefly, and falsely, reassuring.
If NATO were a robust and focused alliance, with a realistic assessment of what its priorities ought to be, the prospects for a post-Bremain EU would be better. But it’s not. The Obama tenure in the White House has seen to that.
On balance, it would be better for Europe to have to face up now, because of an orderly UK Brexit, to the things that aren’t working. A managed transition would be better than a pathetic loss of meaning inside a brittle shell. But we’ll have to see if the Europeans get that opportunity — which, make no mistake, is what it would be. We won’t know for hours what the Brits have decided.
In the meantime, here’s the vote count as this goes to post.
American Lindsay Lohan has been — what shall we call it — mood-tweeting the Brexit vote, which apparently she takes a deep interest in. Who knew. She’s a #Bremain, in case you were wondering. So she’s representing what we might call the Obama faction among Brexit-watchers on this side of the Pond. And nobly, I think. Some Brits are amused; others, not so much.
At least one tweep did find a cultural burble even more entertaining that Lohan’s musings.
— Steven D’Souza (@cbcsteve) June 24, 2016
Looks like this presenter ought to pursue employment with the next Trump reality show.
Ultimately, the Brexit side has the better memes, I think. (Language alert.)
— Jonas Christensen (@JonasChr88) June 24, 2016
Will we wake to new world tomorrow, either way? No. (The pound will recover faster than anyone imagines, in the case of Brexit, if the Brits just handle it predictably and reliably.) Regardless, this is one of the most interesting elections anyone has held in years, about something that actually matters.
*UPDATE* (12:30 AM Eastern) With the vote tally over 90%, it’s been called: Brexit passes. The UK will leave the European Union. Brexit’s ahead by about 51.8% to 48.2% The overall turnout was reportedly around 69%.
This isn’t a catastrophe; it’s an opportunity, and one the EU has needed as badly as Brexit voters in the UK feel they need one. Naturally, the caterwauling has begun by the Bremain folks. Quite a few people on social media are noting the blow this vote is to Obama, who personally appealed to the British voters to stay in the EU.
Lindsay Lohan turned in before the race was called.
The analytical musings from (here) earlier in the night still apply. The UK’s got some things to figure out now (although I think the ScotNat secession threat won’t come to much). So has the EU. That said, nothing about this event will lead “inevitably” to anything. It will present a series of decision wickets that haven’t been faced for a while. It will, of course, encourage nationalist movements in other EU nations — but conditions were going to keep doing that anyway. It’s not like Greece, Hungary, and Poland would have stopped noticing the migrant crisis, and its Potemkin stage managers in Berlin and Brussels, if the UK just voted Bremain.
As with all things human, the consequences of today’s work will depend on what people do. Sometimes it takes getting off autopilot for us to realize that afresh, and really take it to heart. It’s not often that great polities, like the United Kingdom and the EU as a whole, get a do-over without major bloodshed. Cowboy up, Europe: time to rise and shine.