This 31st January 2020 will be known for a rolling back of freedoms, as Brexit tells above all the story of closure, a victory – not by KO but on points – for the partisans of a Great Britain that is revising its ambitions considerably downwards. Without it, the European Union will still count 450 million citizens, still make up about 20% of global GDP, and could neglect this partner that accounts for less than 10% of its trade balance.This member’s exit will of course be a loss, but a relatively small one after all, and comparable to Texas leaving the United States of America. Outside the Union, the United Kingdom will still be forced to align with European regulations despite its current government’s bluster, who claim that abandoning Brussels’ directives on finance, the environment, consumer goods and other matters will allow it to prosper. Without Europe, the UK will still have to face up to its massive failures that have nothing to do with the EU, namely its deficient infrastructure, weak productivity, anaemic investment, and regional inequalities that are all typically British problems.
The EU won’t be the same without this country, as its departure will (fortunately) diminish the influence of the neoliberals who have fulfilled their dream of building a mercantile Europe at the expense of a political Europe. With Great Britain’s role and involvement having been fundamental in a Europe sculpted according to neoliberal fancy, we can now reorient ourselves and finally unite together.The UK will be a dwarf compared to the great blocs that define our modern world – Europe, USA, China, Africa – and that will inevitably be led to intensify the economic and trade wars that they are already waging, in a situation where the institutions that preserve multilateralism are failing. Tossed around by the tectonic movements that surpass its control, will the UK have its say on this European Gulliver, capable of fighting the GAFA companies on equal terms, of weighing in on airline companies to reduce the price of their tickets, of imposing the end of roaming charges for phone networks, of breaking up the cartels…?
In reality, viewed from the other side of the fence, Brexit is – by a wide margin – not so much a question of trade or economics as it is a matter of sovereignty, indeed identity, for this island nation that has in the past and historically been so prestigious and above all careful to maintain control over its own destiny. But especially, Brexit is an English phenomenon: Scotland and Northern Ireland voted “no”, and Wales only marginally voted in favour. Like the invincible Armada, Trafalgar and the victory of 1945, Brexit is claiming to be one of those epic moments, ardently wished for by the English nation that is nostalgic for glory, and enamoured with its own identity and culture. However, today, it is left with a choice between a Shakespearian drama and a Benny Hill practical joke.