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June 23, 2021

Brexit: A lost bet?

Forget about Nigel Farage and those like him. Ask him what UK’s independence day – which he had triumphantly and defiantly proclaimed toward the Old Continent following the result of the ‘in or out EU’ referendum of 26 June 2016 – means now. Independence from whom, from Brussels? Also, ignore the huge UK debate prior to Brexit, as well as the one that followed the referendum triggered so as to come before the U.S. presidential elections but not so much as to be said, with good reason, that the two events are somewhat linked in a cause-effect relationship. Also, forget the reasons propagandistically invoked to validate what seemed somewhat strange for those who know the European history of the last four decades: the supremacy of Brussels’s bureaucracy, the ghost of the fourth Reich, the two World Wars won but now obviously pointlessly, etc. It would all have been only a bet of historic proportions, one of the few we know today to have been undertaken by the responsible elite of a great power (maybe Gorbachev with his perestroika and glasnost policy which cost an empire built for three centuries). A bet made, as things were seen in the summer of 2016, on the eve of some presidential elections crucial for the world – first of all in the U.S., then in France – which could have changed the global order had Donald Trump and Marie Le Pen won.

Had that been the case, Europe, the EU, would have fallen apart basically, isolationism would have won everywhere, and the UK would have appeared to be a winner; with Brexit, the UK would have positioned itself as a unique actor of global stature, a participant equal to the larger systemic actors – hence outside the EU –, among those shaping the new global era. A cold but also attractive geopolitical calculus. Cold, because it was based on presumptions indicated as certain by public opinion polls in the U.S. and Europe, namely that Trump and Le Pen had winning chances.

Attractive, because the UK was thus able to position itself where it had not been since the end of the Second World War. The referendum, scheduled for 2017, was pushed forward – does it matter for what reason? – from 2017 to 2016, to fall comfortably before the elections in the U.S. and France. Otherwise what would have been the point? Then the construction of the reason why Brexit was about to win and its electoral instrumentation started. Farage and the regaining of independence (?!?), immigrants and the loss of identity, national health service costs and the costs of EU membership, etc. Also ignored were the possibly unpleasant consequences of Brexit, which could not have matured before the new world order was forged, especially since the rapid disintegration of the EU was expected: the possible separation of Scotland and Northern Ireland. It did not matter, the bet was too attractive in rapport to the expected winnings – the Conservatives’ eternal hold on power and, of course, the regaining of a seat at the table of the world’s great powers, as supreme reward. What Tony Blair said was forgotten: we can be something among the world’s great powers only along with the EU, otherwise we are too weak, a dwarf among giants. Brexit won at the limit, something that was in fact supposed to happen to show there is a close battle between two major political orientations.

Then the “hard” Brexit proposed to the Europeans followed, and even leaving the EU without any accord. “Hard” Brexit was part of the scenario of undertaking a global role, namely standing up to a giant the likes of the EU, in order to be the precursor of the new order. There were also countless realist voices that constantly warned that this is an illusion, that a path once taken is difficult to abandon, that revealed the weakness of the reasoning of the camp favouring leaving the EU. Of no use, because D. Trump’s election in the U.S. prompted the emergence of the most optimistic scenario for Brexit fans. May, confident she won, triggered Article 50 in March 2017, before the celebration of the EU’s 60th anniversary in Rome, thus positioning herself for a hard Brexit. Then she waited and, at the right moment, the announcement of snap general elections on 8 June 2017 followed.

At first, the Labour opponent turned out to be insignificant, especially since his left-wing stances with hard undercurrents were not at all to his advantage. It all seemed to work wonderfully and, before Macron’s election in France, it promised to go without a hitch, as a great domestic and external victory for the Conservatives.

A dinner of EU officials in London, at May’s invitation, which warned that Brussels will be ruthless when the UK leaves the organisation, was trivialised and the warnings launched in this sense were blamed on one EU official’s consumption of good wine.

However, it all seemed to collapse before – if not during – Trump’s visit to Asia and Europe. Before, if we consider the election of Macron – pro-European and promoter of the Franco-German duo as engine of the EU. During the visit, if we consider the fact that President Trump not invoking Article 5 at the NATO summit, or, prior to that, proposing an alliance with the Islamic world led by Saudi Arabia, came into conflict with the EU’s expectations and values. The EU counteroffensive – as that of a veritable and not at all imagined global actor – to D. Trump’s threats at G-7 and NATO revealed that the world cannot evolve so simply toward a new world order. Then the developments on the Korean Peninsula, China’s stance on the globalism vs. protectionism confrontation, the visit that Russian President V. Putin paid to Paris – siding alongside the EU and against the US? – fully showed one thing. That the world of globalisation and the neoliberal world are not giving in and are moving forward.

An article published by France’s ‘Liberation’ on May 31st – hence a week before the UK elections held three years ahead of schedule, bearing the title ‘Brexit: The British have fallen into their own trap’ and the subtitle ‘UK did not foresee that it won’t be able to rely on its American ally and that the Franco-German axis will come out stronger from the French Presidential elections’ – seems to confirm the incredible Brexit scenario outlined above. According to this article, the most optimistic scenario for the camp that won the referendum was hard-tested by the latest events – Trump’s visit to Europe and his stances at NATO and G-7, as well as Macron’s election in France. As we have seen, UK Premier Theresa May should have consolidated the famous “special relationship” with the U.S. alongside D. Trump, while the EU was supposed to fall apart through self-destruction, hastened by Marine Le Pen’s election as President of France. Thus, the article writes, “once again, the British could have been the precursors of a new global order.” It’s just that President D. Trump turned out to be unpredictable, Macron became President, so that, instead of falling apart, the EU is consolidating under the impulse of the Merkel-Macron duo, “which affords the luxury to contradict Trump.”

As evidence for this interpretation, cited are the documents concerning May’s performance at the NATO and G-7 summits two weeks ago, as well as her attitude toward the EU on the Brexit negotiations issue. Referring to this, a British Labour MP assessed that May, through her insistence on hard Brexit, “has transformed us into an ogre for Europe. We’re everyone’s laughing stock.” We add that British voters have accurately sensed this situation, May constantly dropping in the polls in the last two weeks, to the advantage of Jeremy Corbin. So that, instead of becoming a “geopolitical lighthouse” generating the new global order, the UK is starting to realise that “to play the lone ranger in a transforming world” is extremely risky. Do the results of yesterday’s snap elections confirm Brexit’s optimistic scenario or, on the contrary, do they denote it as a lost bet?


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