With Boris Johnson finally understanding the power of reality, there may be a real chance now to reevaluate what his policies have brought. Chiefly among them, of course, is Brexit.
It is clear, of course, that Brexit has had many fathers and mothers. The UK has always promoted an understanding of itself as somehow both part of Europe while simultaneously not being a part of it; seeing itself as the key nation at the center between Europe, the United States and the World.
As the founder of the largest global Empire in history, British influence is still felt through the Commonwealth of Nations, through movie and television franchises and popular music. In many ways, British culture, globally, can compete with American culture in areas where no other European culture can. Culturally, Brexit has always been the default mode – Europe simply is really not a part of the British cultural imaginary. A consistent study of James Bond, Doctor Who, Harry Potter, Doc Martin and other long-running cultural franchises makes that self-evident. British or Commonwealth actors or musicians seamlessly transition into American culture, which rarely happens for European actors, with a few exceptions.
The UK had to be dragged almost kicking and screaming into the European integration process. The United States rightfully recognized that the days of Empire were over. World Wars I and II, the Cold War, Indian independence, the partition of Pakistan, the wave of decolonization in Africa, Asia and South America made it very clear that British, French, Dutch, Belgian, and the remaining German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese colonial possessions or claims would transition to independence – either peacefully or not. While the remaining colonial power, the Soviet Union at the time, now Russia, would still not learn this lesson, the rest of Europe would have to concentrate in on itself, to then refocus again on being a world leader in a decolonized world. For that to happen, and to contain the former Axis powers, specifically Germany, it would need the combined force of France and the United Kingdom, with Germany and Italy emerging again as big players. While the predecessors of the EU were founded by the core group of six nations (France, Germany, Italy, Belgium, Netherlands and Luxemburg), the European project always aimed for a bigger target, following Immanuel Kant’s idea of “Perpetual Peace”. Europe, as the most war-torn and war-prone continent, a permanent threat to world peace, would finally become the laboratory for generating peace, prosperity and reliability. All former European colonial powers would be able to sublimate their imperial desires under that goal. That was, and still is, the theory.
Of course, we know that practice and theory are not always in harmony, and that each European country constantly aims to maximize their national interests – which is ok, and in the log run, compromises will be made. Politics as usual. Talk à la Thatcher of wanting “my money back” mainly had a domestic target – it has always been easy in Britain to demonize Europe, and given its history, rightfully so – if you only concentrate on Napoleon and Hitler and forget that England once ruled most of France. David Cameron had domestic and specifically Tory party policy in mind when promoting Brexit. Russia had a keen interest in destabilizing Europe and put its seditious influence to work in support of every nationalistic, reactionary and Europe-thrashing movement from Brexit to the AfD to Le Pen to Trump.
But in the end, Johnson’s and his cronies’ brinkmanship approach was key: recklessly promoting far-flung and highly ideological aims no matter what the consequences. David Cameron laid the path, putting party over country. Theresa May tried, but failed, to muddle through, and Johnson joyfully steered Britannia into towards the cliff, and it is still crashing. Nigel Farage, Dominic Cummings and all the other helpers happily snickered as Britain aimed to disentangle itself from the biggest market it had become intimately intertwined with and dependent on.
Just as a reminder, Brexit is not possible without the following consequences:
- Endangering the Northern Irish peace process, which relies on an open border, a free and unimpeded market between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland as well as between the island of Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. Callously ignoring all of that – which is probably a result of a thinking in Britain that sees Ireland still as a colony – has understandably angered the United States with its large Irish heritage population and (currently) an Irish-American President.
- Enabling Scottish separatism. Scotland voted to remain in Britain under the assumption of remaining in the EU – Brexit has put that into question. Scottish nationalism for the longest time has aimed to leave the UK, and now, it is given additional leverage as Scotland was dragged out of the EU against its wishes. Yet no matter how emotionally pleasing Scottish independence would be for some, it would be very difficult and could only barely be worth it through possible Scottish EU membership, but would require a land border between England and Scotland and sacrifice the United Kingdom, which may be too high a price to pay.
- With the EU temporarily gone as the major scapegoat, the lack of true and functioning Federalism within the United Kingdom has the potential to cause even more internal friction – even within England. Westminster and Whitehall will replace Brussels as the main focus of scorn, and even if Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales decide to stay within the UK, internal frictions – that were once more or less successfully appeased by EU regional development money – will reappear. Northern England, Cornwall and the Midlands are not quite happy with London either.
- Diminishing Britain’s weight towards its biggest neighbor, the EU, is endangering the future of the UK – down to the level of scientific and educational cooperation.
- Diminishing Britain’s influence in the world. It simply makes a difference whether you are part of the biggest power bloc in Europe or not. The future will be marked by the competition of large political alliances, the United States, big population countries like China and India, a rising Africa and South America, a hopefully peaceful Middle East under Israeli-Saudi-Egyptian-Emirati guidance, and of course, still the European Union, and once it has recovered from its fascist and imperialist delusion, even Russia. No matter how big British cultural soft power is, its future in the world will rely on its relationship with the EU.
- The strengthening of the European Union. Yes, it may sound silly given constant bickering between European nations, but counting out Europe has always been a mistake. Wishing Europe to fail would be an even more insane mistake – given its potential, demonstrated time and again, of turning European conflicts into world wars. European failure is not an option. The transatlantic relationship may sometimes be balanced more in the direction of the United States, but “thanks” to Putin, Europe has heard the call to action and it seems to be awaking from its complacent and self-congratulatory slumber.
For the sake of Britain, stop this madness. On some level, the anger at Boris is also redirected and unprocessed anger about Brexit. No matter how much you may want to live in denial, Brexit can never “get done” and become a success. It is not possible without a threat to the continued existence of the United Kingdom. Now is the chance for a reckoning – and Europe, no matter what ill feelings may exist, knows it still needs Britain. Get Brexit undone.