Brexit or Brend?

Brexit finally happened. As Europe just got what sounds like the name of an exotic epidemic, the EU might actually not be the biggest loser. After having avoided Scotland’s independence in 2014, Britain has once again played with fire. Except that this time, it got burned. And the Union Jack might well go in flames.

The European Union will survive. Of course, it is the first time that a EU country decides to leave and the UK was one of its most prominent member States. That said, Britain was not a founding member of the EU and never completely embraced the process of European integration by refusing to join the Euro currency. Plus, London never joined the Schengen zone and recently opted out of the EU program to relocate refugees from the Middle East. Despite that, most of the pro-Brexit campaign has centered on issues of immigration leveraging disinformation, xenophobia and as it too often happens, social exclusion.

But a divide between affluent and poor voters is not enough to paint the full picture of the Brexit success. While the British people as a whole have decided to leave the European Union, in fact only England and Wales have embraced Brexit with the notable but not decisive pro-EU vote in London. Scotland has opposed the move of leaving the 28-State bloc by 62%, along with Northern Ireland by 56% who will be left with the prospect of reuniting with Dublin in a perhaps not so distant future.

The most plausible outcome, with the UK activating chapter 50 of the EU Treaty that regulates a member state’s voluntary withdrawal would be for Scotland to organize another referendum to secede from the UK for good. The Scottish PM already said today the option was on the table. Such a move would would mark the end of Britain or to paraphrase “Brexit”, “Brend”, the unexpected end of Great Britain, the union of England and Scotland that was formed in 1707, expanded to Ireland in 1801 and went on to become the world’s de facto super power that until not even a hundred years ago managed to encompass over a fourth of the planet’s land surface.

Britain leaving the EU represents the most historical event for a whole generation of European youth who, like myself, took advantage of student exchange programs such as Erasmus, free circulation of people, goods and ideas. It is a destabilizing outcome and one that true Europeans would have likely avoided. But it can also pave the way to a new start for the European project. After all, European voters are in need for fresh initiatives to curb unemployment, grow the economy and manage unstable borders with Russia and Middle Eastern countries. Only a more united and stronger Europe can effectively tackle those challenges.

Starting today, European leaders no longer have the alibi of a British government watering down more integrated initiatives. It is up to them to become statesmen, rebuild trust with their public opinions through more inclusive exchange and educational programs and embark on a more efficient executive action. It might well be the last chance for a federal Europe.