London acted as an important and practical brake on Brussels. With Britain gone, European integration will speed up and so will the backlash of rising nationalism.
Brexit Will Heighten Division Within the European Union
The chaos surrounding Britain’s still unclear departure from the European Union has created the perception of an incompetent, divided, and humiliated British government. In contrast, the EU comes out looking cool, steady, and completely in control. But while Britain may appear humiliated, this apparent triumph is an illusion that masks the challenges that the EU will face after Brexit.
Britain has always been a somewhat reluctant participant in European integration, but its clout has ensured that broader European integration has proceeded at a relatively slow and moderate pace. Without Britain, this check on integration disappears. This is likely to accelerate integration and the exacerbate the cleavages between those who see ever closer union as a project with a clear federal endpoint, and those for who instead envision a “Europe of nations.” Post-Brexit, the difference between these two visions will become starker, and Europe will eventually have to decide whether it will be ever—or never—closer union.
The fundamental logic of integration, explicitly laid out in the preamble to the 1 Treaty of Rome, has always been to build “an ever closer union among the peoples of Europe.” Europe has undeniably made enormous strides towards such a union. When Britain joined the European Economic Community in 1973, it was essentially a free trade bloc. Today, free trade is just one of the many components of an integrated Europe, and the EU now has virtually all the institutions one would expect of a state.