In many small shops customers see a sign advising, “If you break it, you’ve bought it.” This warns shoppers to take extra care when handling the merchandise. Unfortunately, voters in the U.K. received no such simple warning before they voted to leave the European Union, effectively dropping their country on the concrete like a cheap ceramic souvenir – likely breaking it into three pieces.
While some, like Nigel Farage of the UKIP, portrayed the vote as one to limit the flow of immigrants to that sceptered isle, the impact of the decision to leave the EU will fall most heavily on Britain’s economy. For unless Britain joins the EEA – and makes economic concessions of the type that fueled the “leave” campaign – British businesses will suffer from a lack of competitiveness that will hamper their ability to sell products to the rest of the world. Also, British subjects will pay dearly to be able to buy goods and services from elsewhere – most notably, Europe.
Perhaps more important, while voters in England were deciding to separate Britain from the largest trading bloc on the planet, their fellow countrymen in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU. This means that when Boris Johnson becomes PM – likely sooner than lame-duck PM David Cameron’s announced October departure date – he will have to deal with the possibility that when voters dropped the U.K. on the floor, two big chunks of that country broke off to go their separate ways.
It will take years for the aftershocks of the Brexit vote to subside. But before asking British voters to break away from the EU, the architects of the Brexit campaign should have had the courtesy to warn buyers of the consequences of breakage. For now, Johnson and Farage own a broken country, and no amount of glue in the world can put the pieces back together.