From a non-British POV, the news about the UK considering leaving EU is almost unanimous about Brexit being bad for the EU. What are the most important reasons why it would hurt the EU?

The reasons that come to my mind are:

  • diminished financial and political clout due to one of the major European countries and a major business hub leaving

  • possible worries of the precedent of a country leaving the EU opening a can of worms that eventually leads into dissolution

However I can also see what I believe many "eurocrats" could consider major upsides. It is hardly a secret that a major country opposing closer unification has been a major headache to the architects of the EU, most of whom probably consider ever closer unification a central tenet and goal. After Brexit there would be a slightly smaller union with less dissent and only a single major currency, so it presumably would be more clearly a single economy with only small outliers.

Do grossly underestimate the downsides or overestimate the upsides? I'm merely surprised that media (discounting obviously EU-opposed media) treat the prospect of Brexit as an entirely negative prospect for the EU.

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    I think your basic premise is flawed. From my non-British POV it seems the most news are about it being bad for the UK. Increased prices, staff shortages, manufacturing, financial and tech companies are or are considering to more out et.c.
    – liftarn
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 7:48
  • Yes, that is certainly in my opinion the major focus, but I find it quite a bit easier to understand why it's supposedly bad for the UK. Clearly it's considered bad for the EU, too. Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 22:09

3 Answers 3


The concept of Brexit is worrying for a number of reasons:

Impact on European Union


  • EU becomes hard to justify if you set the precedent of a country leaving altogether

  • Territorial integrity of current members becomes hard to justify if you allow for an EU system with such a broad degree of acceptance (see Catalonia, Cyprus)


  • The cornerstone achievement of the EU is the single market, incomplete as it may well be. Reversing a country out of this de-facto free trade agreement results in a loss of consumer and producer surplus for trade with the UK


  • European project is born out of the ashes of World War II, reversing the course was never the intent of the founding fathers

Impact on the UK

  • Most of the above, just from a UK perspective

  • Loss of investment confidence in a country that removes itself from the single market (City of London is the most worried - bankers don't need access to an 80m people market they need access to 500m people)

The argument made from the Unionist side tends to lean towards stressing the negative downside of the UK leaving. There are many good upsides of the UK being part of the project that have yet to be stressed and enumerated to make a more rounded campaign.

I personally don't think that the EU-crat upside is a widely shared belief. Yes, technically speaking you may remove a barrier to further European integration if you get rid of its most reluctant member. But imagine Lincoln had made the same argument on Southern secession instead of pushing the cultural norm of Unionism further, albeit unfortunately through violence. I see the UK debate separate from deeper Euro zone integration talks and even the concept of uniting the EZ into a sovereign state is removed from membership of individual states in the supranational organization of the EU.

The bottom line is that the EU is unwieldy, inefficient and probably in dire need of reform (in my personal opinion, needs federalization to work).

However, today it stands as layers and layers of treaties setting forth of some of the broadest, constructive and integrative international cooperation the European continent has ever seen. Removing oneself from this progress is to slide into the comforting temptations of nationalist exceptionalism that has no place in a community of nations that twice brought the world to war and has since forged the largest economy in the world through meaningful nation-building.

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    The EU did not spring from the 2nd World War in the form it has turned out to have today. It has changed dramatically to the side of over-national ruling and legislation, one of the key stones in EU scepticism. In your last paragraph you relate the EU to prevention against future world wars, but there are several organizations involved in that (especially NATO) and that was never the intent of an EU.
    – Steeven
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 8:20
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    The intent was rather economical, as you also mention, in terms of market accessibility. And if this really is the cornerstone, as you said, and as I am sure almost all Europeans (including EU sceptics) agree is a very good thing, then why allowing the EU to broaden way further than to just securing a single market? This, I believe, is the key point in events like Brexit happening.
    – Steeven
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 8:23
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    @Steeven The original intent of the EU has always been to prevent wars... Through economical interdependence, making war so costly that no European country would do it. From the treaty of Rome, 1957: "[The heads of States], [...], RESOLVED to strengthen the safeguards of peace and liberty by establishing this combination of resources, and calling upon the other peoples of Europe who share their ideal to join in their efforts, [...]" See also Churchill's speech (yes, a Briton...) in 1946.
    – user5097
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 12:53
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    Or for a more recent one, in the treaty of Lisbon (2007): "RESOLVED to implement a common foreign and security policy including the progressive framing of a common defence policy, which might lead to a common defence, in accordance with the provisions of Article 17, thereby reinforcing the European identity and its independence in order to promote peace, security and progress in Europe and in the world,"
    – user5097
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 12:55
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    The Euro project has some extremely neoliberal consequences, but it hasn't failed in the same sense as, say, the Zimbabwe dollar. The Schengen area has largely been a huge quiet success?
    – pjc50
    Commented Feb 27, 2019 at 10:32

First and foremost because it sets a precedent. The psychological effect of it becoming something realizable will sip its way into all future political considerations. If it actually happens, the confederacy which it created will be much more fragile and will have to remain cognizant of the possibility of other countries electing to withdraw in a similar manner in the future.

As long as an EU exit hasn't been tried, even if it remains perfectly legal, it remains a legal theory which would only be entertained by some of the more extreme political parties. After it happens even once, it will become a political consideration that even mainstream political parties will entertain or have to contend with.

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    But could that also kind of strengthen the Union? After all they know now how easily a part can break off and so that might make the forces that want to keep the Union together also more aware of the fact that they need to work together. This kind of activation effect could work both ways. Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 8:40
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    @Trilarion, remaining cognizant of how fragile a relationship happens to be is a consideration which all alliances have to be aware of as well, But alliances are generally less stable than nations (with long histories). Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 8:47
  • Which is another reason why the US went up and arms against the South. Even if they were willing to lose the southern states, doing so would open a Pandora's box or any other state leaving as well. Nowadays US states know that any attempts to leave the Union will be met with a harsh reaction and no one seriously discusses it. Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 16:07
  • @jonathanreez The US civil war isn't a great comparison as there is no mention in the constitution that it's legal for a state to leave the union.
    – Andy
    Commented Oct 8, 2019 at 0:30

There are two kinds of countries in the EU: The economically weaker countries which receive subsidies and the richer countries which pay for them. The UK is one of those countries which pay far more into the EU than they get from it (directly! There are of course indirect benefits for everyone from the EU).

Losing one of the net-paying countries would of course be far worse for the EU than losing one of the net-taking counties.

And then there are things like EU-wide standardization of certain industry standards which make international commerce far easier. So far the UK hasn't played along with all of them. For example, electric devices with Europlugs don't work in UK electric outlets and vice versa, which is an obstacle for commerce of electric appliances between the UK and the rest of the EU. But when the UK leaves the EU for good, they will likely cooperate even less, which makes it even harder for other European companies to export their goods into the UK.

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    "worse for the EU than losing one of the net-taking counties" does not sound very convincing. Consider how much EU was committed to prevent Grexit, whilst Greece is by far the worst economy and the most net-taking country in the EU. Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 0:10
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    @bytebuster It's still a reasonable point but note that Greece is not the most net-taking country, by far or otherwise. It's even further up the list if you relate what it gets to either its population or GNI. (The money that goes into maintaining the debt of the Greek banking system is not a contribution by any reasonable definition of the world, it's just making a round-trip through Greece, with zero direct benefit for its citizens through public services or whatnot.)
    – Relaxed
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 21:31
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    @bytebuster: Keep in mind the Greece was not only a EU country but also a Euro country. It might have been quite different had it been Romania instead of Greece, where the currency wouldn't have been affected.
    – janh
    Commented Feb 6, 2018 at 8:41
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    This is a very naive answer. What are the subsidies used for? They don't vanish into thin air. They are used to build infrastructure, for example. What companies tend to win the public contracts to build this infrastructure? (Hint: they don't come from the East.) The UK leaving means less competition for these contracts.
    – user5097
    Commented Feb 7, 2018 at 12:58
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    @bobsburner Ring circuits do not required earthed connectors (specifically if they are double insulated). What they do require is a fuse in the plug - which europlugs don't have. Commented Oct 7, 2019 at 16:46

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