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Game over for UK, Brussels

Mudge Robert Kommentarbild App PROVISORISCH
Rob Mudge
June 24, 2016

The nightmare scenario the European Union was dreading has become bitter reality. The Brits are out, but as DW's Rob Mudge writes, Brussels only has itself to blame.

Großbritannien London Düster Morgengrauen EU-Referendum Brexit
Image: Reuters/T. Melville

In "Pride and Prejudice," novelist Jane Austen used a wonderfully pithy line to describe the reactions of a jaded lover: "Angry people are not always wise." Applied to the monumental decision in the UK, it means a lot of angry people have forced Britain out of the EU. There will be anger, desperation and despair both in London and across the Continent's capitals.

And it's entirely justified. There's plenty to be angry about. Anger at David Cameron for allowing himself to be blackmailed by the euroskeptics in his party into holding the referendum - now we know what a huge gamble and miscalculation that was for the country, and for him personally. Anger at the populist and nationalist rhetoric - the blatant scaremongering - of the Leave proponents that fell on fertile ground, superseding the rational, commonsense arguments of the Remain camp. Anger at Brussels for the complacency and inertia that has spread through its institutions like a disease over the decades, and failing to take into account the very real and justified concerns of countries like the UK.

Had the authors of the Maastricht Treaty and its amendment, the Treaty of Lisbon, taken into consideration a fully fledged political union - rather than focused exclusively on the economic bloc - we might not have been in the mess we're facing today - an unholy triptych of the financial crisis in Greece, the refugee fiasco, and now the UK's EU exit.

Mudge Robert Kommentarbild App PROVISORISCH
DW's Rob Mudge

No surprise

But let's take a step back. Are we really surprised? Hasn't the UK always been more out than in? The British have always enjoyed - and exploited - their special island status as outsiders sitting on the fringes of the EU, reveling in that slightly isolationist, underdog role of us versus the Continent. We Brits are quite happy to use and enjoy the conveniences offered by the EU, but other than that we can cope perfectly well without you, stiff upper lip, old chap, and all that.

This referendum would have been a chance for Britain to vote into the EU - to really be part of a social market economy it helped to create, to further pursue what David Cameron - for all his faults - managed to achieve in incremental steps in Brussels in terms of reforms in the months leading up to the referendum.

Will the UK fall apart? Scotland is widely expected to take another shot at independence and bid to join the EU, Northern Ireland may follow suit. And here's a thought: Could London opt out of the rest of the UK? Mayor Sadiq Khan could reasonably argue that London didn't vote for Brexit and now considers the government to be dysfunctional (though, when was it ever functional?).

For Germany, it's a nightmare scenario. A Merkel-Cameron axis would have been quite a formidable force to push through the much-needed reforms in Brussels. Of course, there are those who will argue that those pesky Germans will no longer be able to dictate terms to the Brits, but it will interesting to see how much Vorsprung durch Technik UK businesses achieve without German input and expertise.

Years in the wilderness

German Chancellor Angela Merkel will have to live and work with the French, but who knows whether Hollande will still be around after next year's presidential elections? Even more troublesome for Merkel and Germany - something it's been trying to avoid like the plague - is that it will have to assume the mantle of a reluctant leader in Europe to try and patch together a shell-shocked EU that has essentially been shot down in flames.

No one can predict how many years the UK will spend in the wilderness before its economy and society come to terms with the post-Brexit fallout. Will the EU implode as other countries follow the UK's lead?

A "doomsday scenario," a "historic mistake" - those were just a few of the platitudes generously bandied about in the run-up to the referendum. The former will apply to the EU if it doesn't wake up from its collective slumber and get its house in order. Only time will tell whether the latter applies to the UK.

One more thing, dear fellow Brits: If you were obviously so miserable being part of the EU after all these years, what took you so long to get out?

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