Great Britain reckons with possible future as Little England

The Washington Post reports: For centuries, this modest little island in the North Sea has punched well above its weight on the international stage: It built a global empire, beat back the Nazi tide and stood shoulder to shoulder with the United States during a decades-long standoff with the Soviets.

But now that Britain has stunned the world with its decision to exit the European Union, experts say it will be focused inward for the foreseeable future.

“I don’t think there will be the capacity or the infrastructure to look outward in the next five years,” said Ian Kearns, director of the London-based European Leadership Network. “With all our diplomatic resources focused on extracting concessions from the E.U., we won’t be in anything other than reactive mode on other issues.”

That reality could bring a significantly diminished role on the great challenges facing the West, including Russia, the Islamic State, refugees and climate change.

For Washington, Britain’s distraction will be acutely felt. Britain has long been the United States’ closest ally, one that broadly shares American interests and values, and has always formed a crucial bridge across the Atlantic.

The United States looked to Britain when it needed to influence European decision-making. The E.U. turned to Britain when it hoped to influence the United States.

Now, the loss of Britain’s voice in efforts to present a united European and American front on issues such as sanctions against Russia is particularly worrisome to U.S. officials, said Philip Gordon, a former assistant secretary of state for European affairs in the Obama administration.

“That voice will no longer be there when withdrawal is complete,” Gordon said. Instead, Britain will be preoccupied with its “great domestic convulsion.” [Continue reading…]

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