Three years ago, British voters were asked a simplistic 16-word question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?”
We have just entered the month in which their narrow “yes” answer will lead to a drastic, chaotic and, for many, unforeseen outcome: a drastic divorce with the continent without any details negotiated.
What would be the status of Brits studying, living and working across the channel? Nobody knows. The status of Europeans doing the same in the U.K.? Ditto. Under what terms could European products, including food and medicine, be imported? Damned if anybody has the faintest idea. What would happen along the border between Northern Ireland, which would pull out, and Ireland, which would stay in? No clue.
Britain would suddenly be out in the cold, separated from two dozen vital common market partners, with no leverage as it scrambled to settle upon terms.
So deeply entwined are the U.K. and EU, so central to the larger ecosystem, Britain leaving Europe (16% of the EU’s GDP, 13% of its population) is approximately the equivalent of California seceding from the United States (14% of the nation’s GDP, 12% of its population).
Notwithstanding Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s antidemocratic shenanigans, his foolish insistence on jumping over the cliff blindly because he said he would, the people’s representatives in Parliament need not settle for a no-deal Brexit. They have a final opportunity and obligation to set sane terms for withdrawal.
Doing so will respect the will of the British people while understanding the profound limitations of the referendum that brought the United Kingdom to this precipice.