Brexit and EU disintegration?

Today people parade in Northern Ireland to commemorate the coming to power in the British Isles of a Continental King who did not speak English. It is peculiar, like so many things in Northern Ireland, that most of those parading probably voted for the British to opt out of a role at the centre of European affairs last month. It is even more peculiar because that very vote so obviously threatens the Union they claim to want to protect at all costs.

However, the very reason I advocated a Remain vote was that we cannot afford to be parochial. It is not just the British Union which stands to be destabilised further by “Brexit”. It is also the European Union.

The leaders of the EU institutions seem to believe that they can simply lose their second biggest member and then go on with “more Europe” as before. Ridiculously Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, responded by suggesting full federation. It is exactly this kind of madness which tipped some people in the UK, quite possibly a decisive number, into the “Leave” camp. Indeed, Messrs Schulz, Juncker and Tusk should be resigning en masse given their comprehensive failure to keep the UK people on board, not lecturing about greater integration. Did they miss Greece? Are they missing Italy now? Have they not noticed recent opinion polls and election results in Sweden and Austria?

The response of national governments has been much more sensible. However, for how long can we guarantee sensible national governments across the EU? Already UKIP-like parties are or have been effectively in control of several Eastern European countries and are or soon will be holding governments hostage from Denmark to Austria.

If anything it is the EU, not the UK, which is endangered most by Brexit (well, not by Brexit itself, but by the same forces which drove the Leave vote). It is larger; the member states have less in common; and its purpose is less obvious. What works for Germany, its largest member, may for all kinds of historical and economic reasons not work for anyone else (for example, German austerity derives from historical imperative, not economic). Even Austria and the Netherlands, the two member states most like Germany socially and economically, have Eurosceptic movements accounting quite possibly for a majority of the population; France, the EU’s other core driver, almost certainly now has.

Whatever you say about the decision to call the referendum in the UK, at least the UK recognises there is a problem. That is more than can be said for the European Commission. The EU will now have to take a very different course. The real shame is, if it does leave, the UK will not play a more significant role in steering it.

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