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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 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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