Two-and-a-half months on from June’s shock-to-the-system Brexit vote, Britain’s foreign affairs forecast looks murky. The Netherlands, Austria and Denmark are fast lining up their Brexit sequels, nations which, if withdrawn, could hugely question the longevity of the EU and its current agenda.
With high levels of disregard for the political class, a tidal wave of populism threatens to damage the European Union. But officials have to be harsh with Britain, setting an example of resilience to other nations, in order to prevent the EU from crumbling.
Yesterday, Brexit captain Boris Johnson declared Vote Leave’s £350m EU savings promise simply impractical. Today, Brexit minister David Davis signalled that turbulent negotiations could result in WTO trading tariffs for Britain. Recent reports have also suggested that British wages are shrinking, that the economy is lagging, and that prices are plummeting. Theresa May has for weeks reinforced that “Brexit means Brexit”, but exactly how her government plans to implement June’s decision is yet to be seen.
The dire facet of Britain’s vote to leave the EU is that most of the answers are yet to come. A mass exodus from the EU could hugely damage the stability of the global economy and cause the political equilibrium to wobble.
The EU cannot allow eurosceptic populists to walk all over it. But it seems that European leaders have lost confidence. British Prime Minister Theresa May several weeks ago travelled to Germany in order to speak with Chancellor Angela Merkel regarding Britain’s conditions for EU abandonment.
After weeks of stubbornness from EU states, she did in fact return with success. May has managed to convince the EU ‘leader’ that Britain would need more time before kick-starting the leave process, and that talks would not commence in 2016. Talks of a similar nature held with French President François Hollande resulted in a more relaxed approach towards the need for Dover-Calais border checks, and that free movement would suddenly be up for discussion.
The EU’s decision to warm to the requests of Brexit Britain is risky. Allowing member states to slide out of what could still be a successful union will destroy the chances of dealing easily with global problems.
Most importantly, pandering to British finger clicking will degrade the EU and any chances of future reform. If EU leaders continue to allow the UK’s government to cherry-pick its way through Brexit, more European nations will chip away at the EU. Reform can only be done through a harsh stance towards Britain, allowing existing member states to work on piecing a more coherent and functional EU.
Britain has always negotiated its way through EU relations, the kind of picky politics that the EU ought to stamp out. Britain’s strong disdain for the Eurozone system, its naughty school pupil rebellions against the rulings of the European Court of Justice, and its excruciatingly particular agreements regarding border controls have shown that Britain has modified the politics of the EU, with self-interest at the fore. Britain regularly shuns the political protocol of the EU, seen as a burden on its individualist agenda.
The EU cannot show that it can be easily pushed over. Eurosceptics in other nations could soon be lining up to leave what could still be a successful union. A union like that of the EU should be a patchwork of states which share common values and goals. But if every nation requests a bespoke, nitpicking relationship, then the EU will have little chance of survival.
Perhaps Theresa May, however, by orchestrating a crippling Brexit and pushing the EU to breaking point is planning a grand post-Brexit European reform which will one-up her predecessor, David Cameron, with a process of reform. May could even manage to transform the EU back into the pre-1998 economic union, allowing Britain to regain control.
Watching President Hollande and Chancellor Merkel benignly allow the UK to call the shots over Brexit makes for painful watching. The EU now has the chance to repair itself, taking up arms against the next artillery fire from other Eurosceptics. If the EU is to survive, and have any chance of remaining as an authoritative and reputable force for political and economic decision making, it must restore order and assert its authority.