The reports, and there are several, that London mayor and British Conservative cabinet minister (without portfolio) Boris Johnson has broken ranks with Prime Minister David Cameron and will vote for Britain to leave the EU raises the prospects for the success of a Brexit when the referendum is held in June. The “smart money” is still in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union, but Mr Johnson may give the “Out!” side both the respectability and the political ‘heft’ it needs.
I remain convinced that no matter what Britain does or doesn’t do, the current EU superstructure needs to be reformed. I have used the analogy of a multi-tiered cake: the smallest tier, at the top, would be those countries that would, finally, agree to surrender a good deal of real, measurable sovereignty in order to have the (undoubted benefits) of both the common currency (a reformed €) and of the Schengen Agreement. The big, bottom tier would be those countries that want only a (nearly) free trade area. There would be, presumably, room for tiers in the middle with other “gives” and “takes” for those nations that want more than just free(er) trade but less than the “United States of Europe” model proposes. Some observers, like Wolfgang Münchau of the Financial Times, says that “If the deal” [just negotiated by Prime Minister Cameron and the EU] “is implemented in full, it will end the idea of ever-closer union” [the top tier for all], but I am not sure it would prevent, say, the 17 countries who are, already members of both the €zone and the Schengen Agreement from going the whole hog and forming (the necessary) even closer ties.
The idea of a coordinated EUI foreign policy and a common defence structure have never come close to fruition, and Britain is not the only problem. A Brexit would not make it any harder for, say, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany to agree on certain foreign and defence policy goals; but France and Italy would still be there, creating their own “drama” and demanding special considerations for e.g. North African matters.
Relations with the USA and Canada would be largely unchanged, but Britain might reach out, at the “expense” of the EU and even NATO, to try to tighten the special relationships it has (just thinks (only hopes?) it has) with America and with the “old dominions,” perhaps in an attempt to revitalize the Anglosphere or to make the Commonwealth more relevant, thus giving it another policy influence outlet.
It is hard to forecast what impact a Brexit would have on the European economy, but, as mentioned above, most British business leaders favour the status quo ~ but then, most business leaders everywhere generally favour the status quo. The pound fell on Brexit fears, but, again, the money market is notoriously skittish.
What would change is the balance of power between France and Germany in the EU. Both have tried to use Britain as a lever against the ambitions of the other. They, and not Britain, are, truly, the very heart of the EU and, eventually, one or the other vision must win out. In my personal opinion neither the French nor the German vision is especially “good” for Britain.
Now, Boris Johnson is a charismatic leader, but also a polarizing figure. Despite the image that he, himself, helps to spread, he is anything but a buffoon. He has the capacity to organize and energize the “Out!” side of the debate and he may try to ride that all the way to 10 Downing Street. He is reputed to be very bright but also lazy ~ which makes him, according to German General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord’s famous dictum, well suited for the highest command (leadership) posts, and he is something of a libertarian, which might make him better suited to lead a Britain that is less constrained by the formal, bureaucratic structures of the EU in 2016. If that is, indeed, his long term plan, then jumping out now to lead the “Out!” side is probably a very good tactic.
There is, also, for Britain, the impact of a Brexit on national unity. There can be little doubt that the Scottish Nationalists would use a vote to leave as an excuse to hold another referendum. Boris Johnson would be, I think, even more than David Cameron, an English rather than a British prime minister.
A Brexit would weaken Europe, at least in the short term. (It might, actually, help Europe to help itself in the mid to long terms.) That would play into Russia’s hands and make it more likely that Russia might do something foolish to try to exploit any small, transitory advantage.