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Brexit phase II: Will Britain and Europe still ignore the spectre of realism?

26th Jan 2018
Brexit phase II: Will Britain and Europe still ignore the spectre of realism?

Alireza Versi

It was unanticipated Theresa May’s premiership would survive 2017. June’s snap election, which disastrously failed in its cause to pulverise Jeremy Corbyn into retirement alongside Labour’s home of consecutive election losing leaders, had the ominous vultures of political defenestration circumambulating over Downing Street.

The inquisition that followed brought the heads of her inner circle of advisers to seething backbenchers, required a grovelling agreement with Northern Irish Unionists to remedy the security of a squandered majority, and permitted for a prolonged spell of chattering class prattling over the approximate moment of her impending collapse as they rivetedly observed Kenya Airways flight KQ100 make its way from Nairobi to Heathrow, carrying aboard the latest ministerial departure.

However, to use a metaphor too often adopted, May appears congruently as Monty Python’s Black Knight. In circumstances that ordinarily would have seen a historically pragmatic and ruthless Conservative Party unhesitatingly topple their leader, May has displayed a stubborn resilience, notably characterised by a ‘tis but a scratch’ denial of her terminal political injuries.

What is certain is her obstinance has bought her premiership some valuable time.

Though perhaps a cynical calculation by Government backbenches, May’s tenure rested on the poisoned chalice of Brexit’s first phase.

Either she succeeds in reconciling the stupor of Brexit with the irreconcilable reality of a regionalising world order, or she fails, and is consigned to writing her memoirs. The gamble reaped some commendable returns.

Notwithstanding a final hindrance over Northern Irish regulatory alignment, the Prime Minister ended 2017 with a Phase I agreement.

As a result, given October’s pencilled deadline for the conclusion of second phase talks and subsequent ratification, it is a certainty that May will enter 2019 as Prime Minister bar a catastrophic shock.

While the UK’s negotiations over the past nine months can be heavily criticised for its process, it was a juncture few expected to be reached.

Nevertheless, 2018 marks a more stringent examination. Phase II may seem to be the substantive stage for most Brexiteers, but it must entail the appearance of the spectre of realism for both sides of the Channel.

Thus far, there is a strong case to argue that both Britain and the EU have yet to confront the wider questions of their orientation in a changing world order. Certainly, any attempt to answer these questions have been absent from Phase I.

Of course, Brexit is perceived by its proponents as an opportunity to open up to the rest of the world. Howbeit, what has not been expounded upon, nor widely understood, is the world that exists beyond our European neighbours.

Writing in a previous piece, I noted that the notion turning to the ever-growing Commonwealth in a post-Brexit era, would entail Britain’s effective subservience to the interests of former territories of the British Empire for favourable trade and other desired bilateral agreements.

If, as is the example, India demands parity with China over migration rules and an expansion of UN permanent representation on its Security Council, Britain would need to act accordingly to entertain or even subscribe to such objectives.

Furthermore, though not a member of the Commonwealth, China, a source of immense inward UK investment, has particular ambitions and its grand vision of rekindling its magnificent Ming Era through its One Belt, One Road initiative (OBOR), which according to Henry Kissinger, poses the gravest threat to the American-European alliance.

Though British integration into the OBOR system is unlikely, it is a reality ministers will have to reflect upon as the globalising influence of the US cedes to People’s Republic.

Similarly, Britain must deliberate its stance over the EU’s growing internal fracturing between the federalists of France and Germany, and the nation-statists of Hungary and Poland, that has forced Brussels to engage in an unprecedented censure some of its newer members in order to accelerate its aim of an ever closer union.

As Juncker and Co attempt to dismiss existential dangers to the organisation, the future direction of the EU remains uncertain.

In this regard, though in absurd paradox, Brexit Britain may, in consequence, be imbued to transmogrify into one of the EU project’s most enthusiastic supporters, cheering from the terraces between the Irish and North Seas, in the protection of any description of an agreement that may follow its exit.

In parallel, the EU idealises a closer, federalist union among its member states but has yet to submit an actionable doctrine for its relations with other continental and external entities. Does it pursue a spread and furtherance of appropriated ‘European values’ or does it seek to expand the continent’s influence? One observes the two objectives are somewhat mutually exclusive and the retention of an exclusivist attitude is untenable.

The EU’s shambles in handling Turkish accession to the bloc is a principal example that other vehicles for the achievement of national interests are not only workable but more successful. The first stages of negotiations some fifteen years ago saw a Turkey in economic ruin attempt to model itself on what it believed were desirable forms of European governance and political practice.

Fast forward to 2018, Turkey, which committed to its own and independent Erdoǧanist – Davutoǧlan course, has attained a degree of influence beyond its own borders that even the most eminent EU members cannot compeer. With an economy over four times larger than the basket case of the late nineties and early two-thousands and a position as a central nation to many countries of Central Asia and sections of the Arab and Muslim world, European arrogance facilitated Turkish ascendancy to its own detriment.

I am utterly pessimistic that the UK or the EU will address the spectre of realism in 2018’s Phase II talks. Both sides of the English Channel appear to operate in a naval-gazing vacuum devoid of any consideration of the world beyond, to which the future of each entity is predicated upon.

Theresa May’s stubborn resilience is not the necessary analgesic for this predicament, nor indeed, is the EU’s self-assertion over its own constituents and its arrogance over its appropriated values. There’s a dangerous shadow of self-inflicted isolation that lingers over the Eastern half of the Western World, symptomatic of a European continent that is not prepared to position itself amid American political and economic decline.

Whatever the outcome of Phase II, there’s little doubt that either side will engage in any reflection of the world beyond, and to that end, continue to ignore the spectre of realism.

One Response to “Brexit phase II: Will Britain and Europe still ignore the spectre of realism?”

David HowellJanuary 26, 2018

Good article. India is the key factor and dominant C’wealth member by far. Will Britain now be able to reverse the thinking habits of the last 200 years and give rising India the respect and deference it now merits? It is possible.

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