I expect the UK (or perhaps I should say South Britain, as I expect Scotland and Northern Ireland will have left by then) will in a few years’ time realise that Brexit was a colossal mistake. The size and location of England, as well as the population density and the age profile, combine to make it a very bad candidate for becoming a European Singapore or Hong Kong, and so long as the European Union exists, there probably isn’t any realistic alternative to membership if the country wants to be prosperous and moderately powerful.
However, it’s also very clear that the UK hasn’t had a good time in the EU. Instead of being a leader, it has normally been found on the sidelines, asking for exemptions or demanding to get its money back. As we all know, it’s impossible to play a leading role in a club while never taking part in anything.
Because of this, if England in a few years’ time realises that Brexit has been a terrible mistake and that they should reapply for EU membership, I hope they will also understand that staying out of Schengen (the passport-free area), the Eurozone and many other parts of the modern EU was a colossal mistake, because it prevented the UK from being a leader, and the English don’t want to be part of something where other people are setting the rules.
As we all know, there are currently many problems with both Schengen and the Euro – the former didn’t cope well with the refugee crisis, and the latter needs a deficit transfer mechanism – so if in five or ten years’ time the EU receives a membership application from South Britain that says they’ll join absolutely everything so long as certain problems are fixed, together with good and constructive suggestions for how to fix them, I believe everybody in the EU will be delighted.
Perhaps this seems rather far-fetched given the Brexit dystopia that Theresa May and her strong and stable government are dragging us into at the moment, but who knows? Once Scotland and Northern Ireland have left the United Kingdom, and once it has become abundantly clear to everybody and their hamster that Brexit has been a calamity, hopefully the Conservatives and UKIP will become unelectable, and new, pro-European parties can rise from the ashes. It certainly is already the case that Brexit is causing more people to read up on the EU than ever before, and that’ll be the first step in rebuilding the relationship.
I don’t see why the English shouldn’t be able to learn to love the EU. The half-hearted way subsequent governments have dealt with Brussels, staying out of this and refusing to pay for that, has been a disaster, and Brexit is simply the natural conclusion to a disastrous relationship. If instead the Westminster government starts talking up the EU and being pro-active, trying to lead Europe by example, I think everybody – the English, other people on these isles, as well as other Europeans – will be delighted. England may yet turn out to be Europe’s prodigal son.