- - Tuesday, June 28, 2016


The British independence referendum vote on June 23 was close and, surely we all will respect the will of the British people. The British prime minister, doing the honorable thing, resigned. Yet many British people are deeply ashamed of the result, owing to the barely unspoken rationale behind many votes: immigration (very un-British), and the likely consequences. Brexit raises the specter of many fears, not felt in Europe since the 1930s and barely seen since 1945.

But there is little point crying over spilt milk; Britain must look forward. A dirty, vicious, disingenuous, political campaign, with little reference to facts, on both sides, did little to build confidence in expert advice or even political judgment — nearly every credible voice in business, economics, science and every other field of global society’s recognized thinkers and leadership was dismissed. Fear and hope battled and the result was clear — out of the European Union (with no going back for at least a generation) was the will of the British people, with a blind hope for something better. A step into the dark was the clear decision. But as the cold reality of this decision sinks in over the next days and months, will it seem so clear? Will a 4 percent majority of those who voted feel like enough? Will the British people look to their immediate neighbor (in the house next door) and think, we can build a better Britain together, or will there be a tendency to point the finger of blame (again), like the 1930s? (My wife — a strong woman; a leader in her field — sobbed uncontrollably for several hours and that is really not like her). In Britain, time will heal any wounds and cause us all to look forward. And the rest of the world will try to make sense of this signal, as this is clearly bigger than a feeling of a small island: Modern (Western) society is struggling. And we wonder why Donald Trump is so popular.

We can all dwell on the circumstances that led to the out referendum. But how can Britain rebuild? What is the “get well” plan?

Despite my “expert” credential below (and Google me for details), my view can hardly be worse than the disarray of British politicians vying for the leadership of the unrecognizable political landscape of today. (See the rest of the press for details). So here are the key points of my recommendations for Britain (and the EU, our friends and allies) … recognizing that Brexit is both a symptom of a stressed world (population growth, climate change, inequality, competition for natural resources, need I go on?) and the bad political judgment during the campaign:

Britain should reach out to her allies in Europe and worldwide to find common ground to address both the issues underlying the Brexit vote and work toward mutually beneficial economic, security and social goals.

Remain in (rejoin or join) the European Economic Area (or the Single Market, which is nearly the same thing … think Switzerland).

Renegotiate trade agreements with the world.

Encourage the EU and the United Kingdom to stay together (and if they cannot, follow a similar to plan to this).

Stabilize the money and stock markets, dispelling uncertainty. (It is sad that this is the top of the press-reported agenda).

Re-evaluate British industrial strategy (must this change as a result as Brexit?).

Decide what Britain wants for its, polarized, independent self — only London and Scotland wanted to stay in the European Union (a strange “alliance”). What does being British mean? How can a United Kingdom survive? (This is teetering on the balance, with renewed calls for Scottish independence and Irish reunification).

Experts should be able to help Britain with actions one to six, above. But Britain rejected expert opinion at Brexit. No expert can help Britain decide what its people really wants — this is a matter for the people. Right now, Britain is at risk of tearing itself apart. Does this auger deeper and wider division elsewhere? I fear, yes, unless Britain with the help of her allies and friends can heal the wounds of Brexit, quickly.

Owen Price is a former visiting fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington D.C.

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