That’s the argument that British economist Andrew Lilico made recently in an interview with Vox’s Timothy Lee—that while Britain has gained from being part of the EU, both entities will be better off apart, and that the split, while upsetting to markets in the short term, will ultimately pave the way toward long-term gains for both, with the EU becoming stronger and more unified in a way that it simply couldn’t with Britain attached. Britain, in this thinking, helped set EU culture early on, but was simply too independent to ever fully integrate with the continent. Post-Brexit, basically, the EU is free to become the United States of Europe.
I’m a little less confident that this scenario will play out. Britain’s exit from the EU is just as likely to lead to more sovereign squabbling and a further breakdown of the EU. But ultimately even that might be better in the long run, as the EU as it stands is a deeply dysfunctional governing body that has consistently proven itself unable to effectively respond to the challenges it faces. The design of the EU is inherently awkward: Its monetary union is undercut by its lack of a fiscal union, and its attempts to maintain some level of national sovereignty are undercut by its power imbalances andanti-democratic elements. The structure is inherently unstable.
Regardless of which way it goes, the Brexit vote is likely to spur the EU to take action and move beyond its current unstable equilibrium. It’s as clear a sign as any that the EU can’t go on doing what it’s been doing. It’s a wake up call, basically. So while there are certainly risks to a dramatic move like this, that’s a good thing overall.
In the meantime, Britain is probably better off no matter what. If the EU moves toward becoming the smoothly functioning super-state that Lilico hopes for, then Britain will have helped make that possible. And if the EU continues in its dysfunction, or breaks up further, Britain will have extricated itself, protecting its own interests.
Brexit might spur U.K. reforms.