Andrew Sherriff and Emmanuel De Groof, ECDPM Great Insights magazine, Summer 2018 (volume 7, issue 3).
Brexit leaves no field untouched. Often presented as a EU-UK story, Brexit is much more than that. Elements of its breeding ground are observed throughout the world, and its impact will be felt far beyond Europe.
What characterises this breeding ground? First is a rising scepticism towards multilateralism, as Tom Cargill and Nick Westcott emphasise. Second, is a burgeoning populism (and recourse to referenda to revisit policies). How nationalist approaches and challenges to multilateralism play out can be difficult to predict. Nonetheless, the resilience of multilateralism should not be underestimated, particularly regionally, including in Europe. On three recent dossiers – safeguarding the Iran nuclear deal, countering US posturing around trade wars, and negotiating Brexit – the EU seems relatively united. In relation to Brexit, the systematic way in which the Commission’s Brexit Task Force is preparing for an ‘orderly withdrawal’, and in which the European Council stands behind Ireland, commands respect even from fervent Brexiteers. Negotiating Brexit is a difficult task for both sides, and a general fatigue risks slipping in. Yet, the stakes remain high, so a collective alertness remains de mise throughout the summer months.
Brexit will have consequences – both positive and negative – for many actors, in Europe and beyond. Particularly concerned are developing countries and non-state actors, such as international NGOs, traders from the Global South, refugees seeking a safe haven in a smaller EU or ambitious ‘Global Britain’, and policymakers and civil servants worldwide. Brexit means the departure from the EU of an influential security, aid, trade, and development player, and a range of actors will have to take steps to adapt to the emerging reality. Of course, the EU and UK have no monopoly on global events. Many more partners and actors will affect the destiny of Africa and the Caribbean, as Philani Mthembu, Philippe Darmuzey, and David Jessop write.
Also, it is not impossible that the actual withdrawal of the UK, foreseen for 29 March 2019, may be significantly delayed or not occur at all. This remark may surprise you. But the political environment, including in the UK, where a small majority government is working hard to reconcile diverging views and win a parliamentary vote in autumn, is so fragile that we cannot exclude Brexit becoming disorderly (rather than agreed), delayed, or even being dropped altogether. A request for extra time and even a ‘Breconsider’ are thus real possibilities. Despite the two years that have elapsed since the vote to leave, the variables around departure are still so undefined that all authors here have been forced into a degree of speculation. Anything else would be disingenuous or quickly overtaken by events.
Europe’s position in the world, and global relations with Europe, will depend on how judiciously four questions are confronted: Can opportunities be capitalised upon? Can continuity be maintained in key areas? Can threats be mitigated? What are the negotiators’ priorities? Timing will be essential, too, particularly on under-emphasised issues such as Africa, development, and international cooperation. A sense of urgency is what led us, in spite of all the speculation, to facilitate a collective reflection resulting in this special issue. With Simon Duke, we conclude that the stakes are high, and with Linda McAvan, that time is running out.
Don’t let the tight agenda be an incentive to read in a rush. Because when time is pressing, long-term thinking is compromised, and the impact on affected actors worldwide neglected. This is precisely what we tried to avoid in going ‘Beyond Brexit’. ECDPM will continue to follow this tentacular dossier from different perspectives, and we welcome feedback and engagement in further debate. Indeed this may not be the last Great Insights issue to feature this moving target.
Emmanuel De Groof, Policy Officer and Andrew Sherriff, Head of Programme European External Affairs, ECDPM
This article was published in Great Insights Volume 7, Issue 3. Summer 2018