Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)
Wednesday,18 October, 2017
Issue 1302, (30 June - 13 July 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Brexit and Jo Cox

The ramifications of Britain’s exit from the EU are already substantial and will likely grow, writes Mohamed Salmawy

Al-Ahram Weekly

The repercussions from the disappointing results of the British EU referendum continue to reverberate, and are likely to mount over the next two years. Negotiations to reach a “withdrawal treaty” could take up to two years from the date that the country in question officially notifies the EU of its decision, according to Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

Given fears that the British exit could inspire other EU members to follow suit, the EU will hardly be inclined to facilitate the process for the UK. The process could extend beyond the two years if all EU members agree, and this could conceivably occur if they decide to make things as difficult as possible for the UK in order as to create a deterrent.

In addition, elections are coming up in France and Germany, the two countries that will share leadership of the EU and will have the greatest influence over EU policy after the British exit. Undoubtedly, the impact of the British exit on the shape and policies of the EU will be a major theme during the campaigns.

Both the French and German leaderships may come under heavy criticism for policies or stances that failed to persuade one of the EU’s key members to remain in the union. This, in turn, may induce France and Germany to be even tougher on Britain during upcoming negotiations.

Actually, it may also be in Britain’s interests to prolong its departure, the news of which caused the British pound to take an unprecedented 12 per cent dive against the euro. London may now need some help from its former partners in the EU until it finds the appropriate way to deal with Scotland and Northern Ireland, both of which voted strongly in favour of remaining in the EU.

The referendum results are certain to strengthen the pro-independence camps in both countries. Scotland just had a referendum on the subject and while the results came out in favour of remaining part of the UK, it was only by a very narrow margin. Resentment over being forced out of the EU through the referendum is likely to generate increasing support for the Scottish and Northern Irish independence drives.

What all this means, of course, is that those who imagined, or were led to imagine, that Britain’s withdrawal from the EU would be a problem for Europe but would solve Britain’s problems were deluding themselves. Rather than solving problems, the departure will create new ones for Britain. Some of these, as indicated above, will concern the difficulties of maintaining the unity of the United Kingdom.

Oddly, it appears that Prime Minister David Cameron had not included the possibility of this outcome, the disastrous dimensions of which will gradually reveal themselves with greater clarity, when he vowed to hold a referendum on Britain’s membership in the EU if British voters awarded him a second term in office.

 He won that second term, as we know, but it ended after only 13 months with the announcement of his resignation on Friday morning, following the announcement of the results of the referendum on which he had staked his political career. Cameron and his prime-ministerial predecessors, including Tony Blair, did all they could to convince British public opinion of the need to stay in the EU.

However, the mistake began with that pledge that Cameron made without considering the possibility of a vote in favour of leaving the EU and the grave consequences of this outcome. When advocating a case in a court of law, lawyers observe an important rule: do not ask a witness a question unless you know the answer in advance. Cameron studied economics and political science at Oxford, not law.

In fact, anyone who knows Britain and British history well would not be surprised at the referendum results. The very geographical isolation of the British Isles, which are cut off by water from the rest of Europe, was a crucial factor in shaping the British outlook. The British people do not care all that much about the ties that link them to Europe.

In fact, they may prefer to sever those ties and opt for independence from the Europeans with whom they also share a long history of bloody wars, especially with France on the opposite side of La Manche, or the English Channel.

Moreover, they may even change their creed of faith in order to preserve an identity that they regard as separate and distinct from European identity. In the 16th century, King Henry VIII converted England from Catholicism to Protestantism. His motives were largely personal, as he sought to divorce Catherine of Aragon.

When the Pope refused to grant him an annulment, he split from the Church of Rome and declared himself head of the Protestant Church of England. This title was passed down through the British dynasties: Queen Elizabeth II, today, is the head of the Church of England.

Still, Henry VIII’s decision had a strong political dimension. In breaking with Rome he eliminated British subordination to the Catholic Pope, whose influence extended across the European continent in a manner not dissimilar to that of the EU today. Moreover, the British people themselves, who were very religiously devout at the time, did not object to changing their creed in the interests of promoting their independence from lands “overseas”.

However, the tremors of the British separation from Europe today are of a much greater magnitude than those triggered by Henry VIII’s schism from Rome more than 500 years ago. The world of the 21st century is long cry from that of the 16th century. Distances have shrunk so much and interests have become so closely intertwined that any notion of geographical isolation is unfeasible in politics, economics and the advancement of national interests in today’s world.

The British MP Jo Cox was assassinated in the course of her campaign to keep Britain in the EU. When she fell to the ground, drenched in her own blood, her assistant cried out, “Come on Jo, get up!” Before uttering her last breath, Jo said, “I can’t make it. The pain is too much.” It was like a prophecy for Britain.

What happened in Britain is nothing short of an earthquake. The forthcoming days will bring the aftershocks. Meanwhile, the question remains: Will Britain manage to pick itself up and progress, as the pro-Brexit advocates claim, or will the “pain be too much”?

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