May’s transition moved ahead rapidly today. Prime Minister David Cameron
chaired his 215th and final cabinet meeting, planned to go to Queen Elizabeth
II with his resignation after a final appearance before Parliament on Wednesday
and was already preparing to move out of 10 Downing Street to make room for Ms.
Yet while this makes the political situation
clearer, the country's political problems are not over. With a slender
parliamentary majority of 17 May will lead a divided party and a divided
country at a time when unity is needed.
Some legal experts in the United Kingdom have
said that the prime minister needs
formal authorization from Parliament to start withdrawal negotiations with the
European Union, though other government lawyers contradict that view.
Regardless, getting authorization will be anything but easy for the prime
minister in the current social and political environment.
How she will approach the new job is
only starting to emerge because, despite her years in the cabinet, she has
done one job, home secretary.
Talks on the exit are most likely to come down
to a trade-off between the amount of access Britain wants to Europe’s single
market of goods and services and the extent to which it curbs the free movement
of workers that this entails. While big business will press for access to the
single market, May will be under pressure from Brexit
supporters to deliver cuts in immigration.
Which brings up the question, will she seek
full access to the single market (the Norwegian option), or to part of it (the
Swiss option),or will it go for the Canadian
low-tariff option, or just trade with Europe on the same terms that all World
Trade Organization members do?
And finally there are the even
greater uncertainty about Britain’s future global role. In particular,
how will it respond to the irreversible shift in the global economy’s center of gravity toward Asia, and to the technological
innovations that are revolutionizing industries and occupations – and thus
increasing voters’ anxieties about their employment prospects and future
The referendum result revealed high
concentrations of pro-Brexit sentiment in towns once
at the center of the British industrial revolution
but now awash with derelict factories and workshops, owing to Asian
competition. These areas rebelled against the advice of political and business
elites to vote “Remain” and instead demanded protection from the vicissitudes
of global change. The “Leave” campaign’s very slogans – centered
on bringing control back home – aligned it with populist, protectionist
movements that are fracturing old political loyalties throughout the West.
The result has exposed a Labour Party divided between a leadership that elevates anti-globalization protest above winning power and a Parliamentary group that knows it has to explain how globalization can be managed in the public interest.
But the governing Conservatives are also split
on how to respond to globalization. Some believe in a global free-for-all;
others believe that Britain should be free of foreign entanglements; and a
third cohort wants, like Labour, to be part of the EU, viewing it not as the
problem, but as part of the solution to managing globalization. But, because of
these divisions, none of the leadership contenders have put forward any
proposals that address in any meaningful way the grievances of those who feel
So post-referendum Britain needs a more comprehensive debate on how it will cope with the challenges of global change and how it will work with the international community to do so. A viable program for managing globalization would recognize that every country must balance the autonomy it desires with the cooperation it needs. This would include coordinated monetary and fiscal policies across the G20 countries; renewed efforts to expand world trade; new national agendas addressing inequality and promoting social mobility; and a laser-like focus on science, technology, and innovation as the key to future growth.
As long as globalization appears leaderless, anti-globalization protesters will stifle reform, shout down proposed trade deals like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and make national economies less open.