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Moreover, there are fundamental questions about the long-term stability and viability of the EU. A lack of linkage between populists, of Left and Right, and, on the other hand, the drivers of the European “project”, as well as the matter of unfunded liabilities and a dysfunctional fiscal system, create questions about the ability of the EU to solve its problems. This appears to be the case, whether or not Britain is a member. It is not clear whether it is in the EU’s interests to accommodate Britain or to be hostile, or which approach will prevail in the short, medium, or long term.

Changing global power politics are also significant, notably deep strains between the United States and Europe, including Britain. It is unclear what an American-lite European security order might look like for Britain and the continent. In theory, British security guarantees provide a form of continuing commitment to and leverage on the continent, but that appears of limited consequence for the European Commission, and it is unclear how Britain can take advantage of these guarantees.

Strategic issues in part reflect the role of geopolitics. As an island power, Britain, like Japan in relation to China, not only had physical separation but could also afford to be somewhat detached from the traditional geopolitical concerns that occupied the European land powers, notably France and Germany. Paranoid about German power, French foreign security policy found the EU a vehicle for a continued French role in the context of post-war imperial decline. For Britain, there is a different security rationale to those of France and Germany, and a different cost-benefit analysis for continued membership. And so also into the future.

Britain was semi-detached from the EU “project” prior to the 2016 referendum, which has largely changed the conditions of this semi-detachment. The challenge will be to use national structures effectively so as to maintain confidence in a democratic politics and culture. These structures also have to cope with rival nationhoods within the UK, a list that now includes (different) attempts to create Islamic identities. It is easy to understand why such complexities lead some European states to push their problems onto the level of the EU, a process seen most obviously with Belgium but also apparent until recently in Italy. However, that approach has become widely unacceptable. From that perspective, a British process of searching for national solutions and accountability appears plausible. It will probably be outside the EU, but if Brexit were to fail and Britain, instead, to remain within the EU, it is difficult to see how the hopes of European enthusiasts can be met by the likely trajectory of British separateness.

Ungovernability may be a condition of the atomistic nature of modern society. A Brexit Britain deals with an element of this problem by providing an opportunity to keep the show of government on the road. The viability, democratic, functional or both, of the alternative façade, that of the EU, is less obvious and that provides a way to consider the counterfactuals for Brexit.
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Lawrence James
November 30th, 2018
10:11 AM
[ to Michael Layden ] First, it is mistaken to compare the referendum ( a contrivance favoured by Napoleon, Mussolini and Hitler ) with a general election. The former has taken a decision that will affect future generations whilst the latter decides which party will govern the country for the next five years. So it is that 17 out of 46.8 million voters decided what would befall Britain for decades.Many will not live to see the consequences of their choices and by no stretch of the imagination did the result indicate the 'national will'. As to the historians, as I remember, they were numbered in the hundreds. You are right to say that some nation states have flourished and continued to do so and many are willing to dilute their sovereignty through alliances and commercial treaties. It was the decision made by the German General Staff to invade Belgium which compelled Britain to declare war in 1914. Enlightened and humane 'experts'can govern as fairly and efficiently as elected governments: ask the people of Zimbabwe, Burma, Somaliland and the Sudan.

Michael Layden
November 26th, 2018
11:11 AM
Lawrence James, You consider that taking the outcome of the referendum as the voice of the nation (an odd choice of words, considering your views on "nation state democracy") is a "flimsy assumption". Yet UK governments are all elected on the majority of votes, not of those entitled to vote, but those voting. Are they all then illegitimate? You clearly consider that in virtue of your deep study of history you have a better sense of the "authentic voice of the nation". And that those whose view differs from your own must perforce be in the grip of "visceral passions". Honestly, your opinionated arrogance, so naively and disingenuously displayed, is quite breathtaking. And how splendidly cack-handed to suggest that the states formed from the implosion of Austria-Hungary were desolated, only to regain "happiness" when taken under the wing of a subsequent supranational entity. A rosy view indeed of what's happening on the eastern fringes of the EU. "A substantial body of historians wrote to the Guardian"in favour of your view of things. Who'd a thunk? Don't you think it might be a "flimsy assumption" that a group of historians writing to the Guardian represent an expert consensus? The Guardian - known in my day as the Grauniad - is not known for its breadth of view. How many of them were there? What proportion of historians at large do they represent? You don't believe that the "nation-state democracy" is the only basis for human happiness. Fair enough. But I don't think anyone with half a brain ever thought it was. Happiness or otherwise is an individual condition. But as a model for organising collective human affairs in a manageable and generally positive way - giving people in a fairly local context a say in how they want things arranged, and giving those groups of people a structure in which to arrange their relations with other groups - it's not doing too badly. There are many very successful nation states deeply engaged in positive relations with their peers, and still many shambolic attempts at the same, largely riven by their internal contradictions. Such is humanity. Your preferred alternative seems to me to be a new imperialism run by "experts" rather than dynasties. A Brave New World.

Lawrence James
November 23rd, 2018
1:11 PM
Lucky for you that you did not specify your stake, for there are Brexiteers in my family and among my circle of friends. As for experts, during the Referendum campaign,a substantial body of historians wrote to the Guardian in favour of remain.I do not believe that the 'nation state democracy' is the only basis for human happiness or human progress. Consider the 'states' formed after the implosion of the Habsburg empire, their subsequent misfortunes and how now they are happy within a supra-national entity, the EU. Many nominal of the 'national democracies' that were once part of Britain's African and Asian empire have not enjoyed stability and prosperity, rather the opposite. Sorry for the typo.

November 20th, 2018
9:11 PM
I teach at a Russell Group university and am generally counted as being something of an expert in particular field. I voted Brexit because I believe in nation state democracy. Making sweeping generalisations about the 'Brexiteer mind' disqualifies you as any sort of academic, it is pure bigotry and ignorance. I know people who voted both remain and leave, I would wager a fair amount of money you only ever talk to remain voters. Also, try proof reading comments, it makes them more coherent - though no less intolerant or prejudiced.

Lawrence James
November 10th, 2018
4:11 PM
This article is predicated on the flimsy assumption that a third of the electorate is somehow the authentic voice of the whole nation. It is not. Another equally questionable assumption is that historians are out of touch - they don't 'get out much' whatever that they may mean. We do. We also understand more about the past which has shaped the modern world and the nature of relations between nations. But such knowledge based upon study does count for anything in the Brexiteer mind, which is hostile to all experts, the more so when they contradict visceral passions.

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