‘No special deals’: The impacts of Brexit at home and abroad
Professor Nick Allen, who studied at the University of Sussex in 1966 and now lives in Austria, gives a European perspective on the EU Referendum.
I was born in Britain, but have been a ‘European’ since the age of 3 when, in 1951, my family moved for four years to Cologne.
After returning to Britain I attended Rugby School and then the University of Sussex, before moving to Vienna where I’ve lived ever since.
On 24 June I awoke to discover that the unthinkable had happened and the British had voted to leave the EU.
As the initial shock gives way to acceptance of the result, however reluctantly, it remains clear that life will go on – but in what form?
No special deals
Britain can expect no further ‘special deals’. Any favours to Britain would encourage other countries in the EU to depart, then expect similar deals. The four basic freedoms of the EU must remain 100% valid and without exception.
Britain cannot appear so surprised that other European Leaders are hurt and angry. No other country within the EU has received as many exceptions and special deals as Britain, and still it is not enough.
Someone needs to tell the British that if Britain wishes to maintain free trade access to the EU, citing, say, Norway as example, it will have to accept the basic principles of the EU.
It will have to pay, like Norway and Switzerland, some 90% of what it has so far paid, whilst having no say in what is agreed at European level.
Could Norway be the model for Britain's relationship with the EU? Photo by Ximonic (CC BY-SA 4.0).
This is no problem for Norway, with its oil and gas wealth and its otherwise small economy; it remains to be seen whether this situation will suit Britain – as the Norwegian Prime Minister was the first to point out.
Hopes of any special deal for Britain on the part of the USA would also appear to be wishful thinking, as President Obama has made clear. America’s prime field of influence and interest has shifted to the Pacific, away from Europe and Britain.
The Empire and the Commonwealth will not return to life and compensate for the loss of Europe. Nostalgia for the past will help no-one solve the problems of today.
It will be the young that suffer, most of whom, if they voted at all, voted to remain in the EU. Educational exchanges will be reduced, EU financial support will cease to flow, and there will be less intellectual exchange with Europe as a result.
A country torn apart?
It remains to be seen whether, and in what way, Great Britain itself comes apart. Will Scotland cede from Great Britain in order to remain within the EU, as the majority of its voters appear to wish?
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has suggested that Scotland could hold a second independence referendum.
Photo courtesy of Kenneth Halley (CC BY-SA 4.0).
What will happen to Ireland as an EU outer frontier rises between the Republic and Northern Ireland? How will the fragile peace be affected?
It seems ironic that Boris Johnson, Mayor of London at the time, should have fought so hard for the Leave campaign, when the future of the City of London is so much at stake.
One asks what will happen to the large number of EU immigrants living in Great Britain, where they contribute to social welfare and pay taxes – more than they receive back. And what will become of the British citizens living freely as EU citizens, including the huge number of British pensioners in Spain and elsewhere.
Effects on Europe
As for the effects on Europe and the EU, these are not to be underestimated.
Britain will be missed by the other EU countries, despite its having been perceived as a ‘nuisance’ since the day it joined.
It has always served as a powerful antidote to otherwise unquestioned tenets and decisions, and has supported smaller countries opposed to too great a German/French hegemony.
Britain “has supported smaller countries opposed to too great a German/French hegemony.”
Photo courtesy of Kleinschmidt / MSC (CC BY 3.0 de).
However it would appear that the EU, despite losing one of the largest economies in the world, stands to lose less in terms of mid- to long-term economic strength than Britain. The days of ‘going it alone’ are over, and the nation state is no longer in any position to maintain leader status.
Towards greater integration?
Should there now be a ‘two-speed EU,’ with countries wishing for greater political union – to match economic union – forming a spearhead?
One major complaint by Britain has always been the lack of democratic legitimation of the EU institutions, quite rightly. Britain has, however, always been at the fore of the group of countries resisting any attempts at altering this status quo.
It might be possible now to effect greater changes, were it not for the Eastern European countries which are, historically, reluctant to exchange Soviet domination for what they see as EU domination. We face, here, a problem which only time can solve.
This raises the question: should there now be a ‘two-speed EU,’ with countries wishing for greater political union – to match economic union – forming a spearhead, while allowing other EU states to accede to this inner circle whenever they feel able to and wish to do so?
In a situation where 27 national Prime Ministers must decide unanimously on major issues – 27 Prime Ministers who depend upon re-election by their national electorates – there can and will never be effective, positive government from Brussels. This is clearly the fault not of Brussels, but of the nation states.
The same applies to the EU Parliament. Only when it is elected by one single European electorate can it become a fully effective democratic institution – the true EU Sovereign.
If this is achieved sooner once Britain has left, then the British departure will have been a price worth paying. However I personally doubt whether this will, in reality, be the case.