Brexit and the global liberal order

- AFP pic

ON March 28, British Prime Minister Theresa May dispatched a letter to the European Union (EU) stating Britian's intention to exit from union under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

Now this can seem somewhat arcane but essentially May has started the Brexit (Britain's exit from the EU) process which will take two years and can only be extended if all 27 remaining member states of the EU and Britain agree to such an extension.

The process has been rather acrimonious with some quarters in the EU alleging that May has sought to link any future trade deal with the EU to Britian's disproportionate contribution to Europe's security. However, British Foreign Minister Boris Johnson, has stated that the country's commitment to Europe's security is "unconditional".

Second, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has vetoed May's push for a trade deal between the EU and Britian to be negotiated simultaneously with Brexit. Merkel said: "The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship ... and only when this question is dealt with, can we, hopefully soon after, begin talking about our future relationship."

Of course, local German politics has also played a part in Merkel's decision because she faces an uphill battle for her fourth term as chancellor in elections due later this year. Social Democrats in Germany have selected the folksy, telegenic and avuncular Martin Schulz as their candidate for chancellor and Merkel is compelled to stand as a vanguard against populism and any attempt to unravel the EU.

Gibraltar, the rock that has long been a source dispute between Spain and Britain, is now being used as political fodder. Gibraltarians see themselves as British nationals and have resisted any attempt by Spain to annex their territory by voting down such a proposal in a referendum in 2002.

However a miffed EU clearly wants to make Brexit as hard as possible and ensure Britain does not get a better deal than the one it has now so as to prevent other member states from going down the same path.

In other words, the EU's survival depends on how much it can "punish" the UK and ensure leaving the union is such an arduous process that no member state would want to contemplate it.

Those who support Brexit have been cheering this moment and billed it a return of "sovereignty".

Britain has always been a paradox when it comes to Europe. It gave everything to liberate Europe from the tyranny of Hitler and played a key role in drafting the European Convention on Human Rights but only made it part of their national law some 50 years later.

Britain has always reminisced of a past when it controlled one-third of the surface area of our planet. It was strong and autonomous and felt that being part of the EU robbed it of these virtues. The uncertain relationship with Europe has been further aggravated by EU regulations seeking to control everything from what certain wines can be called to what is actually contained in the famous Cornish pasty. These have been used as examples of EU hegemony as the expense of "Britishness". 

However, many in Britain forget the good of the EU the peace Europe has enjoyed since World War 2. I believe that alone is a good reason enough for Britain to remain part of the EU.

Brexit has put enormous strain on the global liberal order. Trade, globalisation and open societies have all suffered as a result of nativist populism taking hold in the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Britain. The recent repudiation of Gert Wilders in Holland serves as a respite for liberals and democrats around the world but clearly we are not out of the woods yet as France could spring a surprise in its presidential election this year.

Furthermore, Brexit has opened a wide gulf within Britain itself. London which voted to remain in the EU is a cosmopolitan city where over 300 languages are spoken daily, its most famous cuisine is Asian and its best football team is owned by a Russian. 

However, drive up north to Yorkshire and we see the country in decline as coal mining and manufacturing have disappeared. Jobs that sustained previous generations have all but disappeared or been replaced.

However, the enemy is not trade and globalisation. Britain cannot survive on protectionism because it is a medium sized market with very little natural resources. While, some pro-Bexiteers have argued that Brexit will open up new trade frontiers, I, for one, do not see the wisdom in seeking a divorce from the partner one does 50% of one's trade with.

But as Europe falters, an unlikely defender has spoken up for globalisation.

Xi Jinping, the President of China, in a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year spoke eloquently. "We should recede from our respective national positions and embark on the right pathway towards economic globalisation at the right pace … Pursuing protectionism is just like locking one's self in a dark room: wind and rain might be kept outside but so are light and air," he said.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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