The UK’s departure from the EU was brought about by slogans and rhetoric, but global politics is based on power, writes Anthony Salamone.
Today marks a momentous turning point. The UK will depart the EU and we will speak of EU membership as a fixed period in history – 1 January 1973 to 31 January 2020.
As the UK walks away from our European community of friendship and cooperation, an uncertain future awaits.
Brexit will damage society and the economy for years to come. Our place in the world will be profoundly diminished. It is a direction of travel which Scotland never voted for.
Attention will soon turn to the EU-UK future relationship, where the UK’s lack of influence will quickly become apparent.
These negotiations will be completely different from the withdrawal talks. The EU has already secured its main objectives – the UK’s orderly exit with provisions for citizens’ rights, financial obligations and Northern Ireland.
While the EU would prefer a close relationship with the UK, it is not dependent on one. By contrast, the UK will urgently need a deal to keep the economy functioning.
Despite Brexiteer talk of striking new trade deals with far-flung countries, the UK still does around half of all its trade with the EU. Any hope of future prosperity will hang on close links to the EU single market – for services, not just goods.
Brussels sceptical about London’s intentions
Boris Johnson’s refusal to consider extending the Brexit transition, which lasts the rest of this year, ironically will put huge pressure on the UK to agree whatever the EU proposes.
The future relationship must cover much more than just trade. Data, security, aviation and energy will, among other issues, be crucial.
It is challenging to see how all of these areas could be negotiated, let alone approved and ratified, by the end of December. Another ‘cliff edge’ would then come into view, unless the transition is prolonged.
Trust between the EU and the UK is remarkably low. The ramshackle manner in which the UK Government approached leaving the EU has made Brussels and national capitals very sceptical of London’s intentions.
The EU will now view the UK as a competitor on its doorstep. Its priorities will be to protect EU interests and the unity of the member states.
Here, geopolitical reality is significantly in the EU’s favour. No amount of Brexit rhetoric can change the fact that the EU and the UK are not equals.
By some distance, the EU has the larger economy, bigger population and greater political heft. Its peers are the United States and China – not Britain.
UK no longer that important
In any negotiation with the UK, the EU will have the upper hand by default. However much Johnson proclaims a desire to diverge from EU policies, it will ultimately be the UK following EU standards, not the other way around.
Brexit was driven by slogans. Global politics, by contrast, is based on power. The hard reality is that the UK will never have as much influence in the world as it does now. With the rise of new state powers, Brexit Britain will have ever-less global clout.
The UK’s permanent seat on the UN Security Council is not sustainable in the long term. Future reform is inevitable and countries like Japan and India will surely take its place.
When we see the state of international affairs, it becomes obvious that the mantra of Global Britain is an unattainable illusion. In today’s world, the UK is not that important any more.
The UK’s best hope was to remain in the EU and to amplify its voice by shaping EU decisions. Instead, it will find itself copying EU policies over which it has no say.
Over the next 25 years or so, the UK could define a modest, reduced profile in the world – like Canada or Australia. Yet it will forever remain in the EU’s geopolitical shadow. So much for reclaiming sovereignty.
Anthony Salamone is managing director of political consultancy European Merchants