Britain: So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye

The European Magnifying Glass on Brexit

, by Eurosorbonne, translated by Tiffany Williams

All the versions of this article: [English] [français]

Britain: So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye
Image: simisi1 de Pixabay

With the fateful date of 31st December fast approaching, the post-Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union seem to be far from over. These disputes, though essential, are not what will determine the British and world geopolitical climate in the post-Brexit era, as Britain will have to find its place in an increasingly depolarised world.

With less than a month to go until the end of the transition period initiated 11 months ago, Brexit trade issues on fishing rights, a level playing field and governance remain unresolved. Yet Michel Barnier, Chief Negotiator of the EU Commission, and David Frost, Chief negotiator for the UK, are struggling to find answers. These disputes are not new; access to maritime waters was already a significant issue in Europe in the 1970s.

How will the UK fare in the wake of new American hegemony?

With the election of Democrat candidate Joe Biden as President of the United States on the 3rd November, some in Britain may be hoping for a return of the historic ‘special relationship’ between the US and the UK. However, this doesn’t take into account the personal relationship of the leaders of these two nations. Donald Trump and his British counterpart, Prime Minister Boris Johnson, certainly maintained this historic narrative in their own special relationship, each leader full of praise for the other. Trump agreed with Johnson that “Brexit offers an unparalleled opportunity to strengthen the economic partnership” between the two countries.

Joe Biden’s election could therefore complicate relations between the two Anglo-Saxon nations and threaten the possibility of this unprecedented “economic partnership”, as Biden has always considered the UK’s exit from the EU to be a mistake. For this reason, the English-speaking media have suggested that a trade agreement between the two countries will not be a priority for the president-elect. Notably, Biden was far from complimentary of Boris Johnson’s victory in the 2019 general election - as Donald Trump was - describing Johnson as a “physical and emotional clone” of Trump.

As a gesture to Biden, Boris Johnson had described Trump as the “previous president” during Prime Minister’s Questions at the House of Commons, while Trump was still contesting the results of the postal votes. The Prime Minister thus seems to have changed sides in favour of the victor. While Joe Biden’s response is yet to come, his first phone call to a European Head of State will be decisive in determining the consequences of Brexit on Britain’s place on the world stage.

Towards a “Global Britain”?

As Thibaud Harrois, senior lecturer in British Politics at the Université Sorbonne Nouvelle, said one year ago, “the country’s future on the international stage depends on its future relationship with the European Union.” Brexiteers wanted - and still want - to see the UK as a “Global Britain”, that is, a Britain with international prestige. The UK should therefore renew its ties with what Brexiteers commonly call “the Anglosphere”, that is, an allyship with all the major Anglophone countries - Canada, New Zealand, Australia, and of course the United States. This international association would lead to the creation of a new form of the British Empire, an “Empire 2.0”, as Berny Sèbe, lecturer in Colonial and Post-colonial studies at the University of Birmingham, puts it.

Nearly 50 years after the UK joined the European Economic Community - the forerunner of the European Union – the country is turning to the same Commonwealth whose weakening power pushed it to join the EEC. The European project no longer seems to be able to compensate for the loss of prestige caused by decolonisation. Nonetheless, the Commonwealth states were not the only sources of inspiration for new British expansion across the world. Indeed, as the UK can no longer act as a “bridge” between the US and Europe, as Tony Blair used to emphasise, its leaders wish to develop links with the great Asian powers, particularly China and India. In this “hyper-globalist” vision upheld by Boris Johnson, the UK is turning away from Europe’s protectionist vision to establish itself as a “Singapore on the Thames”.

However, this expansionist vision is certainly not shared by everyone, as “Bregret” (Brexit regret) continues to grow among the approximate 17.4 million Britons who voted “Leave”. Thibaud Harrois is among those who disagree with the vision of international British prestige; on the contrary, he thinks that “Brexit will probably have a negative effect and lead to a decline in the UK’s position on the international stage”. When the 31st of December comes, it will be Big Ben that will decide for whom the bell tolls.

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