Many people think that a leave of the UK from the European Union is something like the largest mistake in a lifetime after decades of European integration efforts. Still there is hope that the Brits could correct the decision in a second referendum. After the rejected Brexit deal of Theresa May in the British Parliament, such hopes became stronger.
A recent survey among 1,693 adults in the UK has investigated the options for the situation after a rejection of May’s Brexit deal in the British parliament. The “no-deal”, cold Brexit is expected by 35%, while a “second referendum” ranks only third with 21% behind 23% for “don’t know”. This means that the chances are low. How big is the disaster?
Klaus F. Zimmermann is Professor Emeritus of Bonn University, Honorary Professor of Maastricht University, the Free University of Berlin and Renmin University of China, Beijing. He is Co-Director of POP at UNU-MERIT, Maastricht, and President of the Global Labor Organization (GLO).
GLO: Are you surprised about the large rejection of the Brexit deal?
Klaus F. Zimmermann: Yes, this is kind of a Kamikaze behavior, untypical for a Parliament at fairly normal times. It has been know that the British MPs are quite critical about the EU, and the UK was never a friend of a political union in Europe. An acceptance of the May deal with the EU would have finalized the move out on March 29, at least on paper. Once out, one could have acted more radical. Now those responsible have to fear that the potentially large damage of a cold Brexit generates a stronger desire for a second referendum.
GLO: What do you expect to happen now, general elections, a new referendum, a cold Brexit, or else?
Klaus F. Zimmermann: Now Theresa May wants to speak with all sides among the MPs. This seems a bit too late. Everybody in the Parliament fears general elections, not even the labor party can be sure to win in such a divided situation. The country is split in two nearly equal blocks with opposite positions. It is not even obvious that a second referendum will bring a strong majority for one side. Hence, my best guess is that the outcome is a cold Brexit. However, I think that this would be really a big problem. With such an important decision with very long-term consequences for the well – being of the people it is not a shame to think twice and to correct a mistake.
GLO: What are the consequences for Europe?
Klaus F. Zimmermann: Never waste a crisis! Europe has better things to do, but forced to adjust there are two potentials: First, in the likely case of a cold Brexit, the damage for the UK will be substantial, and also the remaining EU will suffer. At least Scotland will try to leave the UK and seek to join the EU. This will signal to the 27 member states that it does not pay to leave. Further, it increases the incentives to develop the EU stronger and faster, in particular since the UK was always hesitant about a stronger political and economic integration and can no longer object. Second, if a cold Brexit does not happen because the British MPs fear the consequences, another referendum is likely. It can lead to a “Remain” and start a cultural change in the UK, where the British people better understand the benefits of the larger European Union. The EU could then be more dynamic than it otherwise would have been.