The United Kingdom has voted to leave the European Union. It was a close vote–52% voted to leave and 48% voted to stay. I have mixed feelings about the outcome. As a scholar of the British constitution, I’m glad that Britain has regained full control over her polity, but I fear it will cost her dearly. The ties that bind the Union will almost certainly come under increasing strain. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU; Sinn Fein is already calling for a referendum on Irish unification, and the SNP will almost certainly call for a second independence referendum.
The British Government will have to make a number of difficult decisions. For starters, they will have to come up with a replacement for the European Convention on Human Rights. The ECHR has been something of a bugbear among Brexiteers, but now the Government will have to decide which of its provisions should be dispensed with. That’s going to be extraordinarily difficult, as any attempt to move away from its guarantees will likely appear regressive.
Of course this vote did not take place in a vacuum. British ambivalence toward toward Europe is nothing new. In the 80s, the Labour Party was in favor of withdrawing from the European Economic Community (the precursor of today’s EU), and Margaret Thatcher flatly rejected the idea of a single currency when it was first mooted in the early 90s. The Maastricht Treaty caused John Major considerable grief, and Britain initially refused to sign up to its Social Protocol (though this decision was reversed under Tony Blair). Over the years, the UK has decisively rejected key aspects of the European project, including the Euro, the Schengen Area, and the idea of ‘ever-closer union.’ Given Britain’s reluctance to embrace Europe, perhaps it shouldn’t really come as a surprise that they voted to leave.
The United Kingdom faces a challenging road ahead. I hope the British people don’t come to regret their choice.