After Brexit, the evolution continues

New York 

June 26, 2016

After Brexit, the evolution continues

by Bunn Nagara*

BOTH the Leave and Remain sides of “Brexit” portray it as a unique and dramatic break from the norm, but Britain’s EU exit is merely the latest phase of the evolution of Europe.

Historically, Britain’s vote to quit was a natural, even predictable progression of the state. Far from “no turning back,” this is not the end of state remodelling.

Observers of Britain’s latest referendum on Europe compare it with the 1975 version, but the real issues go back centuries. More specifically, four centuries to Westphalia in today’s Germany.

In 1648 several peace treaties were signed in Westphalia, creating the modern nation state with such principles as national sovereignty based on distinct borders and a code of conduct among governments.

In time, other kingdoms and principalities also evolved towards the Westphalian model. Meanwhile, the European states developed and grew, becoming colonial masters through conquest in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Britain was the most successful European colonial power as its rule spanned the globe. In the 19th century, it was also the world’s leading industrial nation.Then came the period of decolonisation, as former colonies gained independence and developed in the Westphalian mode.

European nation states looked inward as they abandoned their “overseas possessions.” The “New World,” an early term for America coined by Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci who gave the continent its name, had also been developing for three centuries.

Led primarily by the US, a former British colony, the earlier emergent economies became increasingly competitive. The British economy in particular had further been weakened by the Second World War.

The next phase of the Westphalian state came after the end of that war. Spurred on by the Cold War that divided Europe, the future of western European states seemed to lie in grouping together.

The Treaty of Paris was signed in 1951 to create the European Coal and Steel Community. It was to ensure peace by promoting cooperation between historical adversaries France and Germany.

In 1957, the Treaty of Rome was signed to establish the European Economic Community (EEC).The 1992, Maastricht Treaty then made the EEC the European Community (EC), which in turn became the European Union (EU).

In the process, the euro, the Eurozone and a string of controversial rules originating in impersonal bureaucracies in Brussels emerged.

Much of this left a proud Britain, separated from mainland Europe, unimpressed and even rebellious.Regardless of the party in government, Britain was never a complete Europhile as its rejection of the euro shows.

Even Margaret Thatcher, although committed to Europe, had her limits with the Europeanisation of Britain. But the process continued, and after Thatcher it became even more intense and insensitive to national prerogatives.

In the 1960s Britain applied twice to join the EEC but was blocked by France. It gained entry in 1973, with the Wilson government the following year promising a referendum in 1975 on staying or leaving.

A majority voted to stay. However, those campaigning to leave argued that the referendum had been fixed by big corporations paying big money for Britain to stay in, with hopes of reaping huge profits.

By contrast, this second referendum is vastly different in an age of widespread ICT, better informed citizens, some bitter experiences of membership – and broader participation. Thus, the different result.

The referendum is hailed as the democratic way to decide, but the result of the referendum (to leave the EU) is even more democratic than the Remain side may like to acknowledge.

The dispute is partly between big British corporations which benefit from European integration, and many more small and medium enterprises (SMEs) tied up in intractable EU regulations. Since SMEs also make up most of the British economy, a vote in their interests is the democratic option.

Those pressing to quit are incensed at having to pay for reduced sovereignty, while being made helpless with growing disenfranchisement.Some of the 10,000 EU officials earn more than Britain’s Prime Minister – and are paid by the British taxpayer.

Both sides agree that the chief issues are the economy, immigration and national identity.On balance, the substance of these issues favours the Leave side over Remain.

It may seem that arguments over the national economy could be made either way, but Britain is already the world’s fourth-largest national economy (currently fifth with the plummeting pound) regardless of EU membership.

Britain’s trade with EU countries is said to be only 6% and declining, while non-EU markets are of growing importance to Britain.

Ten years after its establishment, the EU’s GDP surpassed that of the US in 2003. But its share of global GDP dropped from 30% to 24% in another 10 years (2013) because of newly emerging economies.

Immigration is an issue the Remain side could not win on. It is of growing concern in Europe, and British control over inflows into the country has been usurped by the EU.

National identity also works against Remain, which could only deny there had been any loss. Yet increasingly, the EU seems to erode the social, cultural and even political elements that constitute British national character.

Perhaps chief among these is Britain as “the mother of democracies,” having taken the Greek democratic ideal and spread it around the world – only to lose it to Brussels.

Making the arguments on both sides required covering much ground and many issues. Challenged on the core issues, the Remain side could only unleash passion amid some confusion.

They argued that US officials like President Obama said it would be better for Britain to remain in the EU. But these are American officials representing US interests, and the US itself is not in the EU.

They said being in the EU was better for defence, but defence issues are covered by NATO, not the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron stressed the economy as key to Britain’s future. Nobody was disputing that, but the greater argument for the economy lay in leaving by saving money.

Former Premier Gordon Brown argued passionately for the EU as the best guarantor of peace between France and Germany. That is an argument for both countries to stay in the EU, not for Britain to do so. Sweden, Denmark and even France could be next in pushing to quit. Even Germany may not be far behind.

As Remain advocates insisted just before the vote that leaving would mean higher taxes imposed by countries like Germany, senior German officials immediately denied that.

Germans have also had reservations about the EU. In the 1990s they complained that EU regulations prevented a ban on suspected cattle feed from Britain that had devastated its beef industry with mad cow disease.

Now that Europe has gone to the edge of full integration and seen a component part step back, what lessons can other regions draw from it?

Every region is different. No other region has integrated as much as the EU, or has a Nato equivalent as a defence bloc, or is without a credible potential adversary today like Europe.

Britons and Europeans on the mainland will have to continue to fashion the nation state as they see fit.Others will observe and learn from their successes and failures.

*Bunn Nagara is Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Strategic and International Studies– Malaysia (ISIS-Malaysia)



13 thoughts on “After Brexit, the evolution continues

  1. Poorly researched article. Many motherhood statements, with a few even being incorrect, being made without offering analysis and insight:

    It may seem that arguments over the national economy could be made either way, but Britain is already the world’s fourth-largest national economy (currently fifth with the plummeting pound) regardless of EU membership.
    (The UK’s economy by nominal GDP is the fifth largest — behind the US, China, Japan, Germany and just ahead of France – if the GBP continue to slide against the euro, then it drops a rung to sixth.)

    Britain’s trade with EU countries is said to be only 6% ….. – Bunn Nagara
    (Not sure where the writer got this, but sloppy work not verifying this. The EU in 2014 accounted for 44.6% of UK exports of goods and services, and 53.2% of UK imports of goods and services. If the UK-EU trade is only 6%, why are the Brexiters making the retention of access to the single market such a priority? The writer would have done well to argue for the UK to trade trade under WTO rules.)

    Immigration is an issue the Remain side could not win on. It is of growing concern in Europe, and British control over inflows into the country has been usurped by the EU. – Bunn Nagara
    (The migration of Polish citizens to the UK has indeed caused consternation but with Brexit the UK now potentially will be forced to accept free movement of people without any say in shaping its policy. The experience Switzerland and states in the EEA (Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein) are illustrative. Isn’t that ceding more control to Brussels? And how will Brexit curb migration from south Asia. The migration from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh probably top that of the Poles. Are the Brits mainly concerned with the Poles? Being one of the Big 3 in EU, can the UK leverage for an opt-out or push a limit/quota for Polish migration to the UK? As far as EU states go, the UK is given the most opt-outs — euro, Schengen and a couple of others.)

    National identity also works against Remain, which could only deny there had been any loss. Yet increasingly, the EU seems to erode the social, cultural and even political elements that constitute British national character. — Bunn Nagara
    (How? The writer may have a point, but without analysis or logos being offered, its another motherhood statement.)

    Perhaps chief among these is Britain as “the mother of democracies,” having taken the Greek democratic ideal and spread it around the world – only to lose it to Brussels. — Bunn Nagara
    (Mother of motherhood statements.)

  2. The way I see it, this whole Brexit thing is just a brouhaha. The referendum is not legally binding and the UK is not out of the EU yet. Those who voted to leave have a long hard fight ahead of them. Washington and the British political and media establishments that serve Washington are not going to let them leave.

  3. Pretty balance piece of writing overall

    No big deal in BRIEXIT for 90 % of the people globally(also mostly the Brits), except those(or involved) big corporations that have created unequal opportunities and wealth in cohort with big governments.

    I rather treat it as a member of an extended family moving out for personal reasons and less restrictions to venture for what he want to do more freely, to avoid some 3 rd parties ulterior move to influence or pressure him to remain.

    Moreover Britains systems are fundamentall stong and stable. Leaders are highly qualified and competent. No worry, like what the Aussies usually day,when asked.

  4. Here is an interesting and thought provoking comment in The Guardian by a “Teebs” after Cameron’s resignation.
    Frankly, the UK must trigger Article 50 – the will of the people must be respected and failure to do so will probably damage the credibility of the UK for a long time and one it may not recover from.

    But, say if a candidate was to campaign to replace Cameron as PM on the premise that he/she will NOT invoke Article 50 (and consequently remain in the EU) and gets elected, can he/she go to Brussels and say “sorry-lah, acah aja”?

    Meanwhile, those gullible illiterate xenophobes in the English villages are waking up to the Brexit scam:

    Teebs 6/24/16

    If Boris Johnson looked downbeat yesterday, that is because he realises that he has lost.
    Perhaps many Brexiters do not realise it yet, but they have actually lost, and it is all down to one man: David Cameron.
    With one fell swoop yesterday at 9:15 am, Cameron effectively annulled the referendum result, and simultaneously destroyed the political careers of Boris Johnson, Michael Gove and leading Brexiters who cost him so much anguish, not to mention his premiership.

    Throughout the campaign, Cameron had repeatedly said that a vote for leave would lead to triggering Article 50 straight away. Whether implicitly or explicitly, the image was clear: he would be giving that notice under Article 50 the morning after a vote to leave. Whether that was scaremongering or not is a bit moot now but, in the midst of the sentimental nautical references of his speech yesterday, he quietly abandoned that position and handed the responsibility over to his successor.
    And as the day wore on, the enormity of that step started to sink in: the markets, Sterling, Scotland, the Irish border, the Gibraltar border, the frontier at Calais, the need to continue compliance with all EU regulations for a free market, re-issuing passports, Brits abroad, EU citizens in Britain, the mountain of legistlation to be torn up and rewritten … the list grew and grew.

    The referendum result is not binding. It is advisory. Parliament is not bound to commit itself in that same direction.

    The Conservative party election that Cameron triggered will now have one question looming over it: will you, if elected as party leader, trigger the notice under Article 50?

    Who will want to have the responsibility of all those ramifications and consequences on his/her head and shoulders?
    Boris Johnson knew this yesterday, when he emerged subdued from his home and was even more subdued at the press conference. He has been out-maneouvered and check-mated.

    If he runs for leadership of the party, and then fails to follow through on triggering Article 50, then he is finished. If he does not run and effectively abandons the field, then he is finished. If he runs, wins and pulls the UK out of the EU, then it will all be over – Scotland will break away, there will be upheaval in Ireland, a recession … broken trade agreements. Then he is also finished. Boris Johnson knows all of this. When he acts like the dumb blond it is just that: an act.

    The Brexit leaders now have a result that they cannot use. For them, leadership of the Tory party has become a poison chalice.
    When Boris Johnson said there was no need to trigger Article 50 straight away, what he really meant to say was “never”. When Michael Gove went on and on about “informal negotiations” … why? why not the formal ones straight away? … he also meant not triggering the formal departure. They both know what a formal demarche would mean: an irreversible step that neither of them is prepared to take.
    All that remains is for someone to have the guts to stand up and say that Brexit is unachievable in reality without an enormous amount of pain and destruction, that cannot be borne. And David Cameron has put the onus of making that statement on the heads of the people who led the Brexit campaign.

  5. Time to every nation to consider an exit proposal would be somethig that makes sense. Malxit would be something worth considering. I suspect it is not so bad an idea, consider how Malfunction is our 1PM’s PutraJaya administration.

  6. Those in their 30s are facing the brunt of this globalization thing. They are also witness of this constant transformation of private debt into government debt while they have to carry for life their student loan debt. The big banks in the UK are still in trouble despite the masive bailout at the expense of for the younger generation and those unfortunate enough to be in the bottom half of globalization. Something has to give and the sooner these issues are addressed the better. This cycle privatization -bailout- and re privatization will continue and do not wait for mass movements in the developed world to force change.

  7. I don’t wanna sound profane, but i think the greatest benefit to the British – after invoking Art 50, will be that they get to chose the bananas they like. No longer will the Cavendish variety’s length, curve, color and weight be dictated by Brussels.

    As for the immigrants from both the West and East Indies, good luck and Godspeed. The Poles, Slovaks and Czechs? The women can stay. The men can work in the Brae Scottish oil fields in the North Sea?

    Here’s something from my personal favorite MadDog Englishman who exited Brexit, before it existed:

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