It appears, at this writing, that the “Leave” vote will prevail, and Great Britain will vote to leave the European Union. I confess that I feel some trepidation at the result: it seems a leap into the unknown, and it doubtless will produce some economic uncertainties for the U.K. But then I recall how easily we are lulled into accepting a new normal as How It Has Always Been. Britain was an independent nation for a thousand years before the two-decade reign of the EUrocrats, and it seems likely that the world’s fifth-largest economy can survive as an independent country again. Churchill and Thatcher would be appalled at the idea that it is even in question whether the nation’s needs are such that it can’t afford to be independent anymore. As an American, there’s an overwhelming urge to tell our cousins across the Atlantic: Hey, declaring independence feels awfully good, doesn’t it? At the same time, one must sympathize with the plight of the Scots, whose vote to stay in the U.K. a year and a half ago in September 2014 was heavily influenced by wanting to remain in the EU.
The broader question, which is unanswerable tonight, is what happens next. Losing Britain is survivable for the EU, especially as it will have strong incentives to negotiate terms of trade not very different from those that accompany EU membership. But reactionary nationalism is enjoying a revival across Europe (as it is in some corners here — if Donald Trump were a referendum instead of a candidate, he might actually win), and the center may not hold. Which may not be the worst outcome for Britain, but history suggests it may not end well for the Continent.