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Brexit’s Lost World

When the British electorate voted nearly three years ago to leave Europe behind, the world looked very different than it does today. Instead of a vibrant multinational order, Britain now faces a world challenged by Donald Trump's presidency, cooler relations with China, and electoral manipulation by hostile powers.

OXFORD – Dramatic changes have swept the world since British voters decided in 2016 to leave the European Union. None of them could have been easily foreseen in 2016, but their occurrence makes avoiding a no-deal Brexit a matter of urgent national security for the UK.

Three shifts, in particular, have created a more hostile environment for a plucky country wanting to set out on its own. First, the global rules-based system has been seriously weakened. Second, China no longer looks like such a good partner for the United Kingdom. And, third, tech platforms have left democracy in Britain – and elsewhere – increasingly vulnerable to foreign interference.

In June 2016, Britain could rely on multilateral arrangements – in trade, security, and diplomacy – which, backed by the United States, offered an alternative to the European Union. As then-US President Barack Obama put it, America would “mobilize the world to work with us” on issues of global concern, such as Iran’s nuclear program. On trade, the Obama administration was committed to using World Trade Organization processes rather than unilaterally imposing sanctions.

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