Brexit for breakfast?
It has taken more than 60 years to assemble a motley collection of European states in a somewhat shaky union (euro troubles etc.). The 27 states reflect 27 different attitudes to the alliance, depending on their economics and political backgrounds. In general, satisfaction with the Union prevails, certainly with the original founder members (particularly Germany, France and Italy). Though some restlessness has been evident with countries such as Greece, Finland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, there seems to be a general consensus that it’s “better to be in than out.” After all, what a pity it would be if a union which has resisted unravelling for several decades should now take a backward step, led by states on the territorial fringe, such as Britain, Greece or Finland. Do we really relish the idea of Grexit, Brexit or Fixit?
While the advantages for all of preserving a trading bloc of 500 million are evident when facing huge rivals – China, India, NAFTA – are there any advantages to be gained by some states threatening to split?
The case of Britain is particularly ominous. It is all right for Boris Johnson to declaim, “I choose freedom,” but freedom to do what? He would be free to renegotiate more than one hundred trading treaties to begin with – a process that would take 5 years at least. Can Britain rely on its “special relationship” with the US to compensate for the loss of European business? Will the probable support of far-off former colonies – Canada, Australia, New Zealand – unquestioned in time of war – be of significant help? Will India, as a former colony, step mightily into the breach? Will China show any sympathy?
The fact is that nobody knows the reaction of third parties (who will certainly look to their own interests first). That is only the economic side of things.
As David Cameron has declared, leaving the Union heightens the risk of war. It is fairly sure that liberal democracies, especially when ensconced in a union, are not likely to attack each other. But will they preserve their democratic credentials forever? Europe, more than any other continent, has a very bad record at keeping the peace. Germany and France formed the union with this in mind. With Britain outside, will the Pax Europa be so secure? Remember the sudden nascent jingoism bursting out in England when Galtieri invaded the Falklands. It took only 48 hours for Thatcher to launch the Royal Navy on its revenge mission. Yet one must consider the British as more level-headed than some others in the Union.
Will the French and Germans remain on friendly terms with the British subsequent to a Brexit? Will a Brexit lead to other states following suit and thereby weaken the union further? What will Poles and Ukrainians think?
The answer to most of these questions is that we don’t know. Certainly, the Brits don’t. What frightens me more is that the UK is approaching this potential ravine with equally divided opinions, unconciliatory points of view and only a vague idea of the consequences. Furthermore, it is the common man who will decide the fate of the nation. Which politician in the past said, “Do what you can for the workers - but don’t let them rule.” Another great source of consternation is that the people are muddled – they are in the dark as to subsequent issues and, worst of all, they are guided by the press. The British press is not the most unbiased in the world – in fact, the contrary is the case. Vested interests, not the government, control the newspapers and therefore public opinion. Apart from the Financial Times (now Japanese-owned), where can we go for factuality? The Guardian or the Economist? Most people read The Sun, The Mirror, Daily Mail, Daily Express, The Times and Daily Telegraph. Hold your breath in June…
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