Brexit for Beginners: A Brief Overview
- James Hollis

London, Nov 18 (BAN): By popular demand, I have decided to take this opportunity to put together an overview of the current political situation when seen from the different perspectives of the key players in the Brexit saga. Sometimes it can prove quite difficult for those not so in tune with present day politics to gain a really clear understanding of the Brexit situation as it stands and indeed, of how it could further unfold. In the following article, I have set out Brexit as seen from a variety of different standpoints. Through this, I hope that readers will be able to obtain a proper understanding of current trends and will consequently, be better able to comprehend future Brexit-related developments.

Brexit and the UK Government

Ever since the EU referendum vote of June 2016, the United Kingdom’s government has been attempting to perform a very difficult balancing act of leaving the European Union while at the same time causing as little political and in particular, economic disruption to Britain as possible.

This has proved a very difficult challenge to overcome given that the ‘hard Brexit’ vision is one of total divergence from the European Union economically as well as politically. This version of Brexit has also come to be known as a ‘no-deal’ Brexit – a Brexit, which would occur if Britain were to leave the EU without any form of international agreement in place regulating political and economic relations between itself and the EU. Pursuing this route of Brexit is however, likely to lead to significant disruption to the UK economy and is a route, which is not only opposed by a majority of parliamentarians, but also by a significant proportion of the British public.

Therefore, the majoritarian political consensus dictates that, as and when the UK leaves the EU, the best way of ensuring that economic harm to the country is kept to a minimum is for the UK to undertake Brexit with a comprehensive international agreement with the EU in place. In effect, this would enable the country to preserve as many of its key economic links with the EU as possible. The argument in favour of this course of action is strengthened all the more so when we consider that around half of the UK’s trade with the outside world is with the EU, and so any responsible UK government is ineluctably bound to account for this fact as part of its overarching Brexit strategy.

There have however, been a number of [failed] attempts by the UK government since the EU referendum to not only secure a Brexit deal with the EU, but also to obtain the UK parliament’s approval for such a deal.

The main reason that our government has experienced significant problems in obtaining a beneficial agreement with the EU is that it has been demanding concessions from the EU that the latter is not only unwilling, but is in fact unable, to grant Britain. A prime example of this is in relation to the question of access to the EU’s single market – an issue in relation to which the UK is effectively demanding unique third-country preferential status from the EU.

Furthermore, the reason why the UK has been unable to obtain parliamentary approval for any deal that has been secured with the EU is that the UK parliament is split into a number of disparate groups of parliamentarians, all of who strongly disagree with each other as to how Britain’s future relationship with the EU should look like. These range from those who would like to see another referendum on EU membership with the aim of overturning the referendum result of 2016 to those who want to see Britain leave all of the major economic and political arrangements that the UK currently enjoys by virtue of its membership of the EU.

In other words, it has proved a near impossible task for the UK government to arrive at any proper domestic consensus with regards to what form any final deal with the EU should take given the overwhelming diversity of opinion in parliament and indeed, in the country as a whole, on the issue.

Brexit and the European Union

For the European Union, Brexit can be regarded as a threat not just to UK-EU relations but to the EU project as a whole. It is for this reason that the EU has not been in a particularly conciliatory mood during the course of Brexit negotiations. This is because the EU recognises that a Brexit, which enables the UK to depart on terms that provide the latter with special economic and political advantages is likely to embolden anti-EU nationalist movements in other EU member states - all of who are campaigning hard for a form of Brexit revolution within their own respective countries.  

In other words, if Britain were to retain many of the benefits of EU membership, such as unrestricted trade, and drop unwanted obligations, such as freedom of movement, then why should the remaining EU member states not demand the same? Such demands would, in these circumstances, then prove difficult for the EU to turn down, which would lead to more and more divergence between EU member states up until the point where EU citizens begin to ask themselves the following question: why have a European Union at all?

In effect, the aim of the EU project is, and always has been, to obtain economic and political convergence between EU member states with the ultimate aim being to promote continental peace and stability. Brexit is therefore regarded by the EU as a threat to what it regards as its central purpose and the main reason, which led to its original founding, which was to bring about a federation of European states whose economic and political systems would become so integrated and so alike so as to make economic, political and above all, military conflict between them impossible.

Indeed, this does not mean that the European Union does not want to strike an international agreement with the UK especially given that EU member states, through current UK-EU economic arrangements, benefit significantly from the EU’s links with the UK. That said, the EU will not however put its relationship with the UK above all other considerations such as maintaining cohesion and unity between its member states – cohesion and unity, which could be negatively impacted were the UK to receive preferential treatment in the years following on from its departure from the EU.

What’s more, as a significant player in international relations, the EU has little reason to exercise restraint when it comes to both the protection and pursuit of its own interests. If that means therefore that the EU, along with its 27 member states, would be able to gain a number of benefits from a deal with the UK at the latter’s expense then all well and good.

It is also for reasons such as those highlighted here that having a deal agreed on by the UK parliament has proved such a difficult challenge to overcome. This is because the withdrawal agreement, which was put together under the premiership of Theresa May, while ensuring a more or less smooth departure from the EU, effectively put the EU in a position of significant political strength in comparison to the UK. The infamous Northern Irish backstop was a prime reflection of this where the EU would have had the capacity to effectively decide when a constituent country of the UK, in this case Northern Ireland, could fully leave the EU in the time following the departure of the UK mainland from the EU bloc.

Brexit and Third Parties: The United States and Russia

I feel that it is also worth our while having a brief look at what Brexit means for others who are not directly involved in the Brexit drama, but who nonetheless take an active and serious interest in Brexit developments. Indeed, with the rise of highly advanced technology our world has become interconnected to such an extent that any political or economic shock that may occur as a result of events over Brexit is very likely to have an effect on those who may at first seem quite removed from the Brexit drama.

One significant third party who we in the UK keep hearing of during the course of debates on Brexit is that of the United States. On the one hand, the USA is indeed concerned about Brexit from an American foreign policy standpoint as Britain’s departure from the EU means that the USA is likely to have less influence on EU policy as a whole. This is largely because the USA has always traditionally relied on Britain as a US ally whose membership of the EU bloc has been effectively used to help represent Ango-American interests in EU affairs.

On the other hand, Brexit also provides the US with an inadvertent hegemonic boost when viewed from the perspective of the international balance of power. Policymakers in Washington DC have recognised for some years now that there will be two major challenges to American international hegemony in the future – the first being China and the second being the European Union. Britain leaving the European Union however, weakens a future US economic and political rival, especially in circumstances where Britain aligns itself closer to the US than to the EU in the years following on from Brexit.

Additionally, one cannot regard Brexit from the perspective of third parties without touching upon Russia. Suffice to say that Russian-EU relations have been particularly strained in recent years due to, inter alia, serious disagreements about the future political direction of Ukraine.

Brexit for Russia however, can only be regarded as beneficial to the latter’s interests in that, and similar to the case with the USA, a united European Union represents a significant threat to Russian international influence. This is particularly the case with regards to Russian influence in Eastern Europe. In effect, a world in which the EU could potentially have a political fallout with what used to be one of its most influential members, and finds itself distracted by difficult relations with the UK in the aftermath of Brexit, will have less time to concern itself with Russian ambitions on Eastern European soil let alone properly check them.

Summary

I hope that this article has provided readers with a useful guide insofar as the key players in the Brexit saga are concerned and as to how they are individually approaching the Brexit question. Above all, I have attempted to convey to readers the idea that an issue in international relations, such as Brexit, cannot be viewed in isolation as affecting for example two parties but is likely to have a multiplicity of actors who are affected by a particular international situation or who at the very least are likely to take an active interest in its future development. For those who would like me to address a particular Brexit-related question in the run up to the UK’s departure from the EU in January, or who would like to express a particular viewpoint on Brexit, please do not hesitate to get in touch as it would be great to hear your thoughts.

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Title : Brexit for Beginners: A Brief Overview

 
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Comments

  • Clifton, York
    Mon, Nov 18 2019

    great update will forwrad to freinds and family so everyone has a lowdown as politics and brexit has all gone wild and crazy

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