“Frankly my dear, I kinda do give a damn"

Geopolitics of the EU n.4

In a matter of days the Brexit saga will finally come to an end. It’s been more than four years since the British people voted for the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, a fierce divorce which cost the job to two prime ministers and triggered elections every two years instead of the usual five. As of now the two parties are still struggling to find a deal which satisfies both of them, fishery seems to be the sticking point in the negotiations. While it’s still unclear whether a deal will actually come into force and what will it look like, Brexit has already had its consequences and the geopolitical processes it triggered, both in Europe and the UK, will have their impact regardless of the outcome of the negotiations.


Lord Nelson atop Nelson's Column, Trafalgar Square, London” by RedCoat is licenced under CC BY-SA 4.0

While the geographical position of Great Britain within the European continent is indisputable, it’s a common mistake to define the British people as European, their history and sense of belonging say otherwise. The late Kingdom of England strongly asserted its uniqueness with respect to continental Europe when Henry VIII created the Church of England to break away from Papal authority, refusing at the same time to join the European Protestants. Elizabeth I then defended England’s position by defeating the Spanish armada and paving the way for English supremacy at sea and the creation of the Empire. The Union with Scotland and the overseas conquests turned the Kingdom of England into the British Empire, to much discontent of the Island’s other inhabitants. From this point on, Britain paid little attention to continental Europe, the Strait of Dover kept the British people safe from the once chaotic Europe. While the resistance against France in the Napoleonic Wars and against Germany in both World Wars strengthened Britain’s feeling of distinctiveness and superiority.

Having lost its Empire after World War II, the UK lasted little time on his own and finally joined the EEC in 1973. But the Britons remained nostalgic of their past and jealous of their sovereignty, the UK has always been by far the most Eurosceptic Member State, with more opt-outs options than any of its peers and a constant aversion to European integration. Once Britain realized that the European project was much more than a simple custom union, it was only a matter of time before it decided to leave.

Brexit represents a major event in the history of the United Kingdom, it has divided the country in many ways. Most importantly, the different nations represented in Westminster are seriously reconsidering their position within the United Kingdom. Both Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain in the European Union, as opposed to England and Wales, this difference of opinion has boosted the desire for independence in the devolved nations. Since the Brexit referendum Scotland has been repeatedly asking for a second independence referendum, while in Northern Ireland the separatists have gained momentum in the 2017 elections achieving an historic result. These developments give London strong incentives to mitigate the impact of Brexit as much as possible while still eliminating Brussels’ influence over its internal affairs.

There is a myth which reassures the Britons about a future without the EU, it’s the myth of a “Global Britain”, the idea of a United Kingdom free to form new beneficial connections with the world without the interference of Brussels. But the UK has forgotten that the Empire was lost a long time ago and, without the backing of the European Union, its position on the international arena is greatly weakened. Britain’s overconfidence led it to believe the fairy tale of the “Special Relationship” with the US, while Washington has always used London to keep Europe under control and balance off any eventual push for further European integration, for the Britons being out of the Union means to be less useful for the Americans. So far the US have done little to help Britain, they made clear to London that their Irish ancestry matters more than their English origins, moreover, right now Washington is focused mainly on countering Beijing’s growing influence, which has taken advantage of the UK’s weak position and in that regard the US exerted strong pressure. Some progress has been made for trade deals with partners like Japan, South Korea, Canada, Israel and Norway but of limited importance. Only in the defense sector Britain didn’t lose any credibility thanks to its allegiance to NATO, the Five Eyes (an alliance between the intelligence departments of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand) and the continued cooperation with its European partners. Nevertheless, without the EU the United Kingdom is undoubtedly weaker and nostalgia for the Empire’ status will not be enough to get Britain back on his feet.