by Frank Schnittger
Fri Jan 31st, 2020 at 12:25:42 AM EST
It is with very mixed feelings that I approach Brexit day. On the one hand I have argued strenuously and at length that Brexit is in the interests of neither the UK nor the EU, and plays into the hands of ultra-nationalists, disaster capitalists, global corporations, and great power imperialists. On the other hand I have tired of the seemingly perpetual whingeing, prevarication, lying, and sheer incompetence of successive UK administrations and their oppositions.
From a purely practical point of view, it is reasonable to hope that the EU institutions will operate more coherently, cohesively and efficiently without the continual disruptions caused by UK participation. The loss of 73 mostly far right and often disruptive UK MEPs will be no loss at all. It his high time the EU focused on other priorities and for Brexit and Brexiteers to leave the stage.
Although EU Chief negotiator Barnier and Trade Commissioner Hogan will continue to be centrally involved in UK EU trade negotiations, I expect that issue will gradually decline in the list of EU priorities and the UK's baneful influence on EU foreign policy will also diminish. A lot still depends on whether President Trump is re-elected, or not, but it is relations and trade with the US, China, Russia and third world countries that will gradually come to dominate the EU agenda.
The script for the next 12 months has probably already been written. The EU will offer the UK a Canada++ trade deal where the ++ will be represented by continued close security and foreign policy cooperation. The UK will want more or less everything it has now without the costs and compromises entailed by membership. Expectations will be so far apart no deal is possible. There will be the usual cliff hanging stuff and last minute overnight negotiations. We will probably end up with Canada+++ where the extra plus is a joint commitment to keep talking about further cooperation after the signing of an initial agreement.
Or perhaps not. It is just as likely that Boris Johnson will walk away in a huff or that the UK Parliament will reject any deal that is negotiated, with the government defeated by the ultras who want "a clean break" and the moderates who think the deal falls far short of the benefits the UK had as a member. There will be many on the EU side that believe a period of no deal might be just what is needed to "soften the UK's cough" and a allow more realistic expectations to develop.
But if there is a breakdown in negotiations it is just as likely that it will lead to an ever widening rift rather than a gradual convergence of negotiating positions. If the UK fails to honour the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement - already ratified by both parties - then all bets are off for any new negotiations or positive future relationship. A trade war could very well develop. People will become entrenched and embittered on both sides and the UK tabloids will lead the charge.
The UK will slide into a slow decline - very much reminiscent of the post imperial decline after WWII until the UK joined the EU in 1973 - but it will never be able to admit that Brexit was a mistake. People will double down on their new isolationism, and nationalistic fervour and populist hysteria will be the order of the day. But most people in the EU will hardly notice. They will have their own internal issues to address and other fish to fry. The EU hasn't exactly been an economic dynamo in recent years in any case, but the UK leaving will make little difference.
Except perhaps in Ireland. Unionists are painfully aware that the Withdrawal Agreement represents a betrayal by England and an historic defeat for them. They are almost resigned to becoming more and more a part of an economic united Ireland. Many will go with the flow and make the most of the opportunities presented by having good access to both the UK and EU markets. Some will retreat into sullen resentment and irrational displays of political obtuseness. A very few might take to provocative acts of violence which will be duly criminalised. Again, very few people within the EU will notice.
It will probably take a very long time for political events to catch up with economic realities. EU cooperation and integration will slowly deepen and Eastern European member states will grow in economic performance and political influence. A new generation will take the benefits of the the EU very much for granted. The UK will continue to imagine itself a global player and find it difficult to comprehend why the EU will not deal with it as an equal partner, even with its "ally", the USA, on its side. The US will continue to try to shore up its declining dominance by military adventurism.
Global warming, global corporate tax avoidance, heavy handed diplomacy and crude military interventions will become dominant trends which only concerted actions by coherent power blocs like the EU can deal with effectively - or at least more effectively than its constituent parts could do acting alone. The logic of small and medium size countries pooling sovereignty in order to meet global challenges more effectively will become ever more compelling.
But it will all probably be too little, too late. Without effective political cooperation on a global scale global warming will spin out of control, global corporations will run amok becoming de facto governments of whole regions, the rich will get richer and the poor will end up fighting the poor for scraps from the rich man's table. That is the reality of the political dynamics unleashed, in part, by Trump and Brexit. Today is but a milestone on that journey, but it is nevertheless a sad day.