I’ve already argued that the EU could have avoided Brexit by bending on the issue Rachman also emphasizes — free movement of labor, the so-called fourth freedom (in addition to free trade in goods, services and capital). I agree with Rachman that this would have been wise. And I acknowledged that new terms followed by a second referendum aren’t entirely out of the question even now.
Yet I don’t see this happening. Why not, if it both could happen and should happen? Mainly, because the EU will refuse to reward the U.K. for this latest and most frontal assault on European solidarity. Think of the precedent this would set for dealing with anti-EU sentiment elsewhere. And never mind other countries: How long would it be before Britain, for that matter, threatened to leave again, and came back for more?
Weighing these incentives, the EU’s leaders are more likely to adjust the fourth freedom in due course so that it affects the EU post-Brexit, but not Britain. Even this, by the way, poses a problem. Treaty revisions involve national ratification votes and more referendums. That’s risky. Smaller adjustments to the fourth freedom — “emergency brakes” and suchlike — may not require treaty changes, but tweaks of that sort probably wouldn’t be enough to quell anti-EU sentiment.