Christos Mouzeviris discusses the future of Britain now that it faces into a future without the safety net of a Union that it both helped to build and influence.
On the 31st of January 2020, the United Kingdom finally left the European Union. After three years, numerous debates, arguments, twists and turns, the Tory leadership of the country managed to strike a deal with its European partners and come to an agreement within its own government.
Good ship Britannia
This is the first time a country leaves the EU and it is of great significance, since it is one of the oldest members. However, It’s my opinion that the British leadership was never too keen on European integration. Euro-scepticism is nothing new in the UK and the country’s press was for decades, habitually EU bashing, with little effort to counter their arguments by successive governments. During the EU membership referendum, we witnessed much propaganda and misinformation from the Leave campaign, but also an inability from the Remain side to present convincing arguments to persuade the British public. They tended to focus on Russian meddling, US corporate takeovers and numerous doomsday scenarios for when the UK leaves the EU. The truth is, the country is one of the richest nations in the world and it can survive outside the EU, although surely weakened.
But it is sad that not just the British public, but Europeans all over the continent are failing to realize the uniqueness of the EU as a concept, but chose to fall for populists that bet in their greatest concern of all: their pockets.
The rise in EU criticism revolves around the most basic instincts of the European populace, their nationalistic sense of identity and their wealth. Money may be the reason why many countries chose to stay outside the EU and why the UK decided to leave. Money may also be the reason why others chose to join or are keen to do so in the future. They want to access to the single market, yet once they enter the club, they often forget the obligations they have signed in order to be accepted in the EU.
Yet, few in Europe see the EU as those who worked to establish it in the past. It is the manifestation of an altruistic idea of a united Europe, which arose from the ashes of a continent, torn by war.
Insight into the past
Those visionaries who have witnessed its madness and cruelty and lived through Europe’s most shameful pages in history, had as a goal, the unification of our continent. However, since the 80’s, only years after it joined, the UK started deviating from this vision. Soon after the “poison” of Euroscepticism spilled over to other nations and how couldn’t it, since European politics became a fight over interests and money, among our national governments. But the EU as a project should not only a financial one. It is evident that if it is to succeed in the future, it needs the citizens’ support.
And that can only be accomplished once they get to share the same vision as Europe’s forefathers, plus ideally, have their needs met, their pockets and living standards filled and raised. Other unions operate differently. They have a president, common language, religion and one of its representatives, or a monarch to unite their populace. What does Europe have, since if we focus solely on wealth and money, we will inevitable fight over it. We need to start promoting our ideals, values and vision among all layers of our social structure, from the poorest to the richest, either that be nations or individuals.
I would be proud if Ireland or Greece ever became net contributors to the EU’s budget for example, because that would mean that they achieved to be considered among Europe’s richest nations, plus they can help others reach the same goal. And that would be an honour. However, that transfer of wealth can only be monitored through a centralized governing body, just as it happens in other federal or confederal political structures, such as the USA. Thus, we need the EU, even if it has itself problems with corruption, lobbying and red tape; we do not seek to dismantle our national governments or parliaments, because our politicians are corrupt, so why do we require this from the EU?
Our generation hasn’t lived through destruction or war, so we take for granted the freedoms we enjoy. And it is sad to see our willingness to sacrifice them in order to satisfy the will of the rich minority. Because those will be the ones who benefit the most from the disintegration of the EU, not the average citizens. The British public was conned into believing that by exiting the EU, they would enjoy more wealth, save their NHS and they could manage the levels of immigration in their country. Straight after they “got back control,” their government announced that they are seeking to attract workers from all over the world, to fill job vacancies.
As for the NHS, it was never in that bad of shape because of the EU, rather than mismanagement of the consequent British governments. It was plainly used as a carrot to lure the public and fall in the trap. The country’s leadership simply wants to be free of EU regulation when conducting business, but not for the citizens’ benefit, rather for their own and those who finance their political careers and campaigns, such as the British and American business elites. Therefore, we can see a very different UK from now on. Surely not a much poorer country, albeit a more unequal one, a tax haven that is competing with Europe in order to attract more businesses. The ordinary British people won’t see much difference in wealth “trickling down” from this shift, rather they plainly lost their EU citizenship and the rights that came with it.
Funnily enough, they haven’t realized that for one year until they finally agree on their future relationship with the EU, during the 2020 negotiations with the block, Britain will have to obey EU rules without having any say, as it lost its representatives. And that is a far more serious loss of control and EU meddling, something that Norway- the model country for many Brexiteers- must deal with for decades now. But while Norway, a small Scandinavian nation can manage, how will this go down with Britain, a country with global leader aspirations?
In addition, even Norway is looking closely how Brexit will pan out for the Brits and perhaps rethink their position on EU membership. Their EEA (European Economic Area) Agreement will be affected if Britain ever tries to join or get a similar deal. The EU as expected will play hardball during the negotiations with the UK, which may well be extended for years. It must really. If it allows the Brits out too easily, or with a very favourable agreement, then other member states might seek similar treatment and that will cast the EU’s doom as we know it. Perhaps that is what the UK bets on, however there is little appetite shown for compromise in other member states.
I will survive
The United Kingdom will be fine outside the EU, just as many other countries. Yet, why aren’t we collectively still convinced about our greatest accomplishment as a continent and chose to remain behind nationalist trenches? As if our greatest enemy to our wealth is poorer European nations and their citizens. Ultimately, if the UK ever decides to re-join, it won’t happen for another 10-20 years. When they do, they will have to join the euro and Schengen and that will be a much greater humiliation for the British leadership, but perhaps a much necessary one.
However, there is also the risk that the United Kingdom as a country won’t exist in its current form. With a potential departure of Scotland in order to be in the EU, comes that of Northern Ireland too, now that Sinn Fein has gained great support in the recent election in the Republic. The UK that is leaving is a very different country as potential new EU member state, Anglocentric and potentially met with suspicion by all other member states. Unless, during their absence the EU manages to solidify its structures and become more unified, it is unlikely they will ever allow “little Britain” back in, with all its demands and opt-outs.