The Confusing Lessons Of Brexit

It was one of those events where one knows prior that it could become a reality, but is shocked nevertheless when it actually occurs.

Based on the post-election upheaval, many throughout the world, upon learning that the people of the United Kingdom had voted to leave the European Union, shared my feelings.

The vote to leave reflected a strange coalition of economic uncertainty, nativism and racism, fortified by reactionary urges where facts where a subordinate consideration.

There is a natural impulse among those of us within the chattering class to ascertain what the results mean. The problem, however, no one knows for sure.

We know that Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned and Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party, faced a no-confidence vote. We also know that British politician Jo Cox died a week before the historic election as the result of injuries she sustained by an attacker who was in support of the UK exodus from the EU.

We also know that it was a close election, with 51.9 percent voting to leave, while 48.1 percent voted to stay. While this would appear to be a low bar given the magnitude of the vote, it reflects the same threshold when the UK voted to enter the EU in 1972.

But none of this has any bearing on what lies ahead. If you are reading this post with the expectation that I might possess the answer to an unanswerable question, I'm afraid you will be disappointed.

Frankly, this is a moment where the questions are far more important than the answers. So, as the UK and the EU enter into the murky unknown as the rest of the world watches anxiously on the sidelines, allow me to pose several questions for consideration.
What will the next prime minister do?

The Leave campaign made a number of promises about the Shangri-La that was just over the horizon if they possess the courage, or in this case the anger, to vote to exit the EU. Now that reality has set in, some of those grandiose promises are already non-starters.
Leaders of the Leave campaign have already backed away from the campaign promise of £350,000,000 per week that would magically return to the UK if they supported the referendum.

Will the next prime minister attempt to slow the process down? If so, will that cause an additional set of challenges for those who passionately supported leaving? What about the 48.1 percent who voted not to leave? Will their concerns be factored in the negotiations with the EU?

Given recent history, will there be a second referendum for Scotland secession from the UK, which overwhelmingly voted to stay in the EU?

What does the vote say about the EU and globalization?
What began as six Western European countries dedicated to peace and prosperity shortly following World War II is currently 28 member states at varying stages of economic vitality. What is the EU if Germany and France also decide to follow the UK lead?

Setting aside, momentarily, the UK decision to leave, the EU must still contend with:
▪ The Greek debt crisis
▪ The migration and refugee crisis
▪ A resurgent Russia
▪ A heightened terrorism threat

Here is the rub not only facing the EU, but also every other developed nation: It is impossible to have total democracy, along with national sovereignty, and expect completely integrated markets.

This is the incongruent fanciful notion that the EU and others have allowed to exist, contributing to internal inequality among richer nations that is particularly pernicious to those in the lower middle class.

What message does the UK referendum send to the presumptive presidential nominees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump and their supporters?
Will Clinton take on the role of Cameron by telling a frustrated electorate to stay the course with little else to offer? Or will Trump realize 270 electoral votes simply by titillating emotions, advocating for the unrealistic?

As for the referendum itself, the argument could be made that the Remain side became the unwitting allies of Leave by putting forth rationales that justified their frustrations.

But frustration is hardly a justification to drive off the cliff just because the road is bumpy. Only time will tell what the referendum actually accomplished and what lessons, if any, a frustrated American electorate will learn from this kerfuffle.