Ten days after the Brexit referendum the dust still has not settled down. But it looks as if the referendum was a pyrrhic victory for the Leave campaign, which in the end could paradoxically result in solidifying Britain’s EU membership.
Boris Johnson has stepped down. Nigel Farage has stepped down. David Cameron will step down and probably be succeeded by Theresa May, the Minister of Interior who, albeit herself very critical of the EU, supported the Remain campaign. James Corbyn might lose his job as well amid accusations of having been not sufficiently determined in his support of Britain’s EU membership.
The public opinion seems to be shifting, as Britons begin to discover the dire consequences of losing access to the interior market. And whoever the next Prime Minister will be, it is very unlikely that he or she will push the ‘Exit’ button very soon.
Instead, it is likely that the next PM will seek to re-negotiate the terms of membership without triggering the Article 50 procedure. And while several representatives of the Commission and the European Parliament have said that outside that procedure no negotiations are going to take place, it is not unlikely that many Member States – notably those who would prefer the UK to stay in the EU – have a different view. They might set up a platform of Member States that is sympathetic to reforms that would reduce the EU to its essential function, that of a free trade zone with an interior market – while dumping many other policy areas such as the common currency or the common immigration policy.
In the end, the lesson to be learned might be that, however great the deficiencies of the EU may be, even for Britain it is better to be inside than outside, and that Britain will not leave the EU whatever the population may have voted on June 23rd. It might be that the current British experience might discourage other countries from holding referendums like this, even if the discontentment remains. Paradoxically, the EU might come out of this referendum stronger than ever. If not even a clear plebiscite results in a country’s departure from the EU, what will?
On the other hand, there might also be a strong push for an institutional reform of the EU in order to accommodate British wishes. This would probably lead to a weakening of Commission and Parliament, and a strengthening of Council. Perhaps this is a good occasion to reflect how the EU can in the future be prevented from promoting radical policies in the area of social values, which is not is core task anyway.