The people of the United Kingdom voted “Yes” to leave the European Union. But the more pressing question remains unanswered: Who will lead the U.K. out of the EU?
Prime Minister David Cameron has resigned. Former London Mayor Boris Johnson has taken himself out of contention to be the next prime minister. Still flush from victory in last month’s referendum, Eurosceptic-in-chief Nigel Farage has stepped down as head of the U.K. Independence Party.
We’re not sure this is the kind of “Brexit” that U.K. voters intended.
Before the June 23 referendum, we asserted that the U.K. should withdraw from the EU, largely on the grounds that the Brexit vote was an opportunity for the British people to escape the “creeping governance” of European bureaucrats. We stand by that position.
Some argue that the U.K. is sacrificing its standing in the world by leaving the EU. After all, the U.K. has a population of “only” 65 million, while the EU together is 508 million-strong. We think that is a fundamental misconception.
To repeat what we have said on several occasions, in this day and age, it is not the large who eat the small – it is the fast who eat the slow. In other words, not only is bigger not always better – oftentimes it can be worse.
(Looking at “size” from a different perspective, consider that the U.K. by itself is the world’s fifth- or sixth-largest economy, according to gross domestic product. In terms of global clout, money is a more important metric than people.)
When we think of the U.K. being free from the EU, we imagine a wealthy, cohesive and nimble nation united behind a single purpose. A sovereign state of might, means and self-sufficiency that is empowered by its ability to adapt to rapidly changing times.
But what good, however, is divorcing the EU, if all that it entails is exchanging the Brussels-based bureaucracy for an equally entangling one from Westminster?
As a recent example of how the EU functions (or does not), consider last Wednesday’s summit meeting among European leaders. With 27 of the continent’s “CEOs” in attendance, and the main object on the agenda being the future of the EU after the Brexit vote, the definitive action arising from the meeting was indefinite inaction. From the New York Times: “With no easy fixes to Europe’s public image and no consensus on what a reformed union might look like, the main agreement reached on Wednesday was familiar: to hold another meeting in Bratislava, Slovakia, in September.”
Not exactly inspirational. But the vacuum of strong individual, or organizational, leadership appears to be just as lacking in London. (Consider that, despite the Brexit vote being in the works for several years, neither the governments of the EU nor the U.K. had drafted a strategic plan on how the U.K. might withdraw from the EU or how to deal with the consequences.)
In the U.K., Mr. Cameron is on his way out. Mr. Johnson will not be stepping up. And Mr. Farage is stepping aside. The opposition Labour Party is in shambles, as party leader Jeremy Corbyn is desperately attempting to survive an internal coup.
The nascent battle over leadership of the ruling Conservative Party has already been characterized by tactical understatement and political assassination. There are no Winston Churchills in sight.
As far as the lessons the Cayman Islands can draw from the burgeoning Brexit debacle, so far they’re based largely on what has been absent: The importance of strong leadership, sound strategy and swift decision-making.