If that happens, and Britain is able to establish a stable trading relationship with the European Union, Brexit’s champions may claim a measure of vindication. That is even more likely if, as many experts predict, the bloc enters a bumpy stretch economically. “Boris Johnson’s argument is that , , or years from now, we’ll look back and say, ‘Getting out was in our national interest,’ ”said Mujtaba Rahman, a managing director at the political risk consultancy Eurasia Group. “The jury is out on that, but if he can pull this off, there are reasons to think Britain will prosper.”
The Brexiteers are far less guarded. They speak of a “global Britain,” bursting with technological innovation, unencumbered by regulations – an agile free agent, ready to do business with the world. Britain, they said, would strike lucrative trade deals and become a magnet for foreign investment.
“It starts with free trade,” said Patrick Minford, an economist at Cardiff University. “Everyone talks about the E.U. as if it is a bastion of free trade, but it’s not. We want to trade freely with everybody, especially the United States. ” Professor Minford contends that Britain could add 8 percent to its gross domestic product over the next decade if it is able to strike down all trade barriers, and 4 percent if it is able only to eliminate a portion of them. There could be further gains from technological innovations in industries like artificial intelligence, he said. Most mainstream studies, though, predict Brexit will inflict losses on Britain’s gross domestic product of between 1.2 percent and 4.5 percent, depending on the terms of its exit from the European Union.
“The elemental case for Brexit is the democratic one,” said Daniel Hannan, who just stepped down as a Conservative member of the European Parliament. “Having got power back from Brussels, we should not let it fester in Whitehall. This requires not just leaving the E.U. but reviving our domestic democracy. ” even some of those who lobbied to stay in the European Union acknowledge that in the post-Brexit era, the debates in Parliament could become more rational – focused on what kind of society and economy Britain now wants to have. They also concede that Britain’s membership in the European Union was deeply unsatisfying. Because it refused to join the monetary union, Britain was always going to feel left out of Europe’s innermost councils. After the adoption of the Maastricht Treaty in 2016 – which formally established the European Union – Europe became as a much a political union as an economic club, something that many in Britain never accepted. “We opted out of bits and pieces of it, so we were never at the top table,” said Jonathan Powell, who was a chief of staff to former Prime Minister Tony Blair. “If you’re going to be a halfhearted partner, then there’s no point to being in it at all.” Still, Mr. Powell said, it was fanciful to assume that by leaving the European Union, Britain would be able to discard the bloc’s rules and regulations. Other nonmembers, like Norway or Switzerland, adhere to European standards as a condition of trading with it. That will be particularly true in Northern Ireland, which will stay closely aligned with a maze of European rules and regulations.
Britain, the critics say, will continue to be a rule taker. It just will no longer have a seat at the table where those rules are drafted. Despite his landslide election victory last December, Mr. Johnson has not really articulated the pro-Brexit case. He has spoken in general terms about reunifying and reviving the country but has yet to lay out an agenda for how Britain plans to exploit its independence for economic or political gain. Partly that may reflect Mr. Johnson’s determination not to be triumphalist after a debate that divided the country. Partly, his critics say, it reflects the prime minister’s lack of fixed convictions. He used Brexit more as a vehicle to amass power, they said, than to impose a particular worldview.
Mr. Johnson must also balance the different parts of his Brexit coalition. Voters in the Midlands and the North of England, where many districts abandoned the Labor Party to embrace Mr. Johnson’s promise to “get Brexit done,” have a very different vision of what Brexit means from the free-market evangelists in London, who want to remake Britain as a kind of Singapore-on-Thames – an enclave with little regulation and low taxes . “The pain will be felt differentially,” said Mr. Powell, the former chief of staff to Mr. Blair. “Sunderland and other places that voted for Brexit will be hardest hit,” he said, referring to the industrial city in northern England where the early returns from the June (referendum foretold that the country would vote to leave the union. With Britain likely to hammer out some sort of trade agreement with the European Union, the most alarmist predictions about Brexit – food shortages, trucks lined up for miles at ports – are not likely to happen. Rather than a triumph or a tragedy for the country, Brexit may end up being a long twilight. )
“We’re not going to go off a cliff, ”Mr. Powell said. “It will be more of a glide path. Britain is going to have to come to terms with being a small country. ”