Europe seen from the outside – the British view

A political counter-revolution against the European Union is underway. Brexit is likely to be seen in hindsight as just the first of many tremors leading up to a larger political earthquake that will be felt all over the European continent.

Brexit could prove very dangerous for the UK. There has been a short term shock: the British economy is on the way into a recession, the pound is in free fall, banks are starting to relocate, and British politics has become a game of musical chairs as one political leader after the other exits the stage. Racism has reared its ugly head: the British police confirmed a 57 percent increase in hate crime in the week after the referendum. But the longer term outlook signals a much more fundamental change – a shrinking economic and political voice in the world.

As much as some elements of the British EU referendum campaign were idiosyncratic to the UK, Brexit was not a peculiar piece of Anglo-Saxon exceptionalism. Rather, it is a symptom and an accelerator of wider trends that are increasingly affecting all member states.

The referendum result shocked the British elite. Notwithstanding the high turnout of 72 percent – which in the run-up to the referendum had been considered a favourable portent of a “Remain” win – a majority voted to leave the European Union. The autopsy of the result concluded that Brexit was caused by a toxic mix of economic uncertainty, cultural anxiety, and political alienation among the population. This is true, but underlying it is a bigger challenge – that the EU no longer has a clear story what it is for.

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Mark Leonard of the ECFR

Mark Leonard is co-founder and director of the European Council on Foreign Relations, the first pan-European think tank. He writes a syndicated column on global affairs for and is Chairman of the World Economic Forum’s Global Agenda Council on Geoeconomics. As well as writing and commenting frequently in the media on global affairs, Mark is author of two best-selling books. His first book, Why Europe will run the 21st Century, was published in 2005 and translated into 19 languages. Mark’s second book, What does China think? was published in 2008 and translated into 15 languages. He is the creator and editor of the Everyday Europe, an interactive project involving Britons sharing their experiences of Europe, including newspaper articles and a future book.