What Have We Learned So Far?
Published in: Survival, v. 58, no. 5, Oct.-Nov. 2016, p. 59-67
Posted on RAND.org on September 26, 2016
For Europe and for the United Kingdom, the Brexit vote was only the beginning of a long and complex process. On 23 June 2016, the British electorate defied the expectations of political leaders, financial markets and foreign allies by voting to withdraw from the European Union. Political shock and market upheaval followed. Theresa May replaced David Cameron as prime minister, the opposition Labour party began a leadership contest and the future status of those areas of the United Kingdom (Scotland, Northern Ireland, London and even Gibraltar) that voted to 'Remain' was thrown into doubt. The 'Leave' campaign hailed its 51.9% share of the vote as the declaration of Britain's 'Independence Day.' Other commentators drew a different revolutionary parallel. For the Irish Times and National Review, Brexit was 'the world turned upside down' — the tune (perhaps apocryphally) played by disbelieving British troops as they marched out of Yorktown in 1781 after surrendering to George Washington. This cast Brexit as a historic and inglorious retreat, leaving Britain's role and influence on a continent uncertain, perhaps permanently diminished. Several major questions about the consequences of Brexit cannot yet be answered: What is the future of the UK economy? How will any deal with the EU navigate Parliament? Will there be a second referendum, or a general election? Will other countries follow the Brexit example? Nonetheless, events since June have shed some light on the issues that will shape the answers to these questions in the years to come.