June 16, 2016 | By Ivo H. Daalder

This Week’s Reads — Why Brexit Matters


British Prime Minister David Cameron said he would campaign with all his "heart and soul" for Britain to stay in the European Union. REUTERS/Dylan Martinez

We are one week away from perhaps the most important vote Britons will ever cast—the vote for “Brexit,” or Britain’s exit from the European Union. This week saw a surge in support for the “leave” camp, with polls showing Brexiters either winning or coming close in the June 23 vote. This is a remarkable turnaround. Only a few months ago, the “leave” campaign was largely dismissed, and the prospect of Brexit seemed remote. What changed? And what might Brexit mean for the United Kingdom, Europe, and the United States?

On the first question, I would suggest that Brexiters may have effectively (if cynically) won their argument on immigration and national security grounds. Britons are frustrated over the European Union’s inability to control the United Kingdom’s surging immigration (even though the United Kingdom has opted out of the Schengen agreement and effectively already controls its borders), and after a string of global terrorist attacks—from Paris to Orlando—they are unconvinced that Brussels can offer adequate protection.

The second question requires a fuller treatment than this short blog can offer, but several points are worth mentioning. First, the short-term economic consequences of Brexit will almost certainly be negative. The UK Treasury warns Britain’s departure could significantly increase unemployment in the next two years, while the IMF predicts it would produce a negative hit to Britain’s GDP. Second, Brexit would add another element of political instability to Europe at a time when other problems—from rising nationalism to the refugee crisis—are unrelenting. Finally, Brexit would cut off a major bridgehead for the United States in Europe, and may potentially cause lasting harm to the US-UK relationship.

This is a messy and controversial issue, and it’s only likely to become more so in the coming days. This week’s reads provide a snapshot of some different perspectives on Brexit’s pitfalls and promise.

Brexit: Should They Stay or Should They Go?

Frank Luntz/TIME

Voter’s beliefs about whether engaging other countries benefits them will predict the British vote to remain in or leave the European Union, argues US pollster Frank Luntz. Based on results from a poll he conducted to test the beliefs of United Kingdom voters, he concludes that voters are disillusioned with the promises of the European Union. Luntz says that around the world—as seen with the success of Donald Trump in the United States and the near victory of the far-right “Freedom Party” in Austria—voters are turning to the polls to express discontent with the status quo and their desire for their country’s governments to look inward.

European Union Referendum Exposes Britain's Political Decay

Sebastian Mallaby/The Washington Post

Britain’s referendum on EU membership is a symptom of the nation’s refusal to take responsibility or care about problems outside its borders, writes Sebastian Mallaby. This is a new political culture, as Britons had previously seen the United Kingdom as a key player in Europe and voted multiple times to engage further with the continent. Mallaby laments that British citizens are now denouncing openness, especially to migrants, and argues that this is indicative of wider political unraveling in Britain.

Europe and the Unthinkable

Roger Cohen/The New York Times

A British exit from the European Union would be devastating, writes Roger Cohen, and the unimaginable must be taken seriously if it is to be averted. Cohen believes the financial turmoil that would accompany a leave vote could spark destabilizing contagion, magnify German dominance in the union (accentuating anti-German sentiment), delegitimize the euro, and cause a political “bank run” of drum-beating nationalist fragmentation. The necessity of coherence in the Atlantic world has grown, he writes, and the unthinkable must be resisted before it is too late.

Brexit Would Compound All Other European Crises

Timothy Garton Ash/Financial Times

Britain is not the only EU country considering leaving the union, writes Timothy Garton. The move is characteristic of trends seen across the continent, as citizens are more than ever viewing membership in the European Union as unfavorable. Garton argues that a Brexit would compound all the economic, migratory, and political problems weighing down the region. He says Europe needs to acknowledge Brexit as a sign of the increasing lack of confidence in the European Union and address it.

If Brexit Wins out, Let Britain Go in Peace

Wolfgang Münchau/Financial Times

If Britain were to decide to leave the European Union, European countries should not meet the decision with retaliation, writes Wolfgang Münchau. While it may be that Britain’s exit will have a short-term economic impact on both itself and on the European Union, other countries should not put the future of Europe at risk by further hampering relations with Britain. Münchau recommends that European countries allow Britain to proceed in the way it sees best, while thinking strategically about the future and offering them a good deal in their exit from the union.

Britain: A Time to Lead Rather than Leave the European Union?

Philip Stephens/Financial Times

A look at Britain’s history reveals that the nation has been at its strongest when it has engaged globally, rather than in isolation, argues Philip Stephens. Those who argue that exiting the European Union would allow Britain more sovereignty are mistaken, Stephens writes, because real sovereignty comes from capacity to act. Instead of leaving the union, Stephen argues, Britain should engage more deeply with the rest of Europe and embrace a leadership position.

This Political Spectacle: What Links Vladimir Putin to Barack Obama to Donald Trump

Matthew Kaminski/POLITICO

Candidates that previously would have failed are now basking in the limelight thanks to the rise of new media and a charismatic ability to harness it, argues Matthew Kaminski. While Trump is a more obvious example of this, Kaminski argues that this trend began with Obama. He was able to beat Clinton, who had the backing of the party and support from big donors, by harnessing the power of the media and using his charisma. He also says that Vladimir Putin was an early adopter of bypassing traditional media for a more direct connection with his audience to capture and maintain power.

Key Findings on How Europeans See Their Place in the World

Bruce Stokes/Pew Research Center

Faced with years of economic instability, the new wave of refugees and terrorism attacks, many Europeans are now questioning the value of global engagement, writes Bruce Strokes. A new Pew Research Center survey of ten European nations found that in seven of those ten societies, a majority of those surveyed believe their country should let other countries “fend for themselves.” The survey further found that Europeans have waning confidence that their countries are of global importance and that they have an aversion to the use of military power in international affairs. However, the survey also found that Europeans want the European Union to play a bigger role on the world stage and that they see ISIS as the top threat to their countries.

Can Victories Against Islamic State Last Without Support of Sunnis?

Yaroslav Trofimov/The Wall Street Journal

Success in defeating the Islamic State might be impossible unless Sunni Arabs are part of the post-ISIS system. Because Sunni grievances were the root cause of the Islamic State’s emergence, many believe that Sunni Arabs must be involved in efforts to hold and rebuild reclaimed ISIS territory. Otherwise, peace enforced by other groups will vulnerable to similar Sunni backlashes and radicalism. So far the involvement of Sunni Arabs has been limited and unsuccessful due to a distrust of Sunnis by other groups and Washington’s unwillingness to let Sunnis to fight the Syrian regime.  

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