The following was published in the current issue (Spring 2016) of the journal The International Economy as my response to a symposium of views on the question Brexit: The Unintended Consequences:
The Brexit referendum will test the veracity of the claim that international economic integration is impossible without supranational governance. This is what the opponents of Brexit claim, while the Brexit proponents argue that international economic integration will be better served with a reassertion of national sovereignty over supranational governance.
Indeed, the EU insists that if a country wants to have access to its markets it must accept the entire body of acquis communautaire, i.e., the entire body of EU legal acts, court rulings and bureaucratic regulations that have nothing to do with free trade and touch on matters ranging from sports team uniform designs and barmaids’ cleavage regulation to speech code, cultural/ education policy and immigration, and politically correct law enforcement. Most if not all of this acquis communautaire serves no purpose other than the assertion of supranational governance and subversion of traditional national sovereignty.
If Britain votes to exit the EU, it will be voting to get rid of the 13,000-plus acts, rules and regulation of the acquis communautaire, but otherwise to continue Britain’s economic relations with the Continent.
One unintended consequence will show up in the reaction of the European Union leadership to a probable British vote to exit the EU. A lengthy period of UK-EU negotiations will follow Brexit, whose purpose will be to redefine UK-EU relations. The European negotiators will have a choice between preserving the mutually beneficial economic relations (the EU maintains a healthy trade surplus with the UK) even after Britain has rejected the rest of the acquis communautaire, or terminating/curtailing those economic relations in order to punish Britain for its rejection of the EU’s oppressive legal scaffolding.
If the European leadership chooses to preserve UK-EU economic relations, they will be signaling to the other members of the EU that it is not necessary to accept the comprehensive supranational overlordship of Brussels in order to enjoy the benefits of international economic integration and free trade. But if, in order to whip into line the remaining EU members, the leadership decides to destroy the hitherto beneficial UK-EU economic relations, the EU leaders will be signaling that their true institutional interest is not international economic integration but the political power of supranational governance arrayed against national sovereignty and the democratic institutions that underlie that sovereignty.
In opposing Brexit, the ideologues of political Europeanism argued to the British public that their Europeanism is motivated by their solicitous concern to preserve the benefits of international economic integration. If Brexit wins the referendum, these ideologues must either accept that international economic integration can also be served by strengthened national sovereignty without supranational governance, or they must resort to the unintended consequence of demolishing economic integration in order to preserve supranational rule.