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The geopolitics of Brexit

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Giancarlo Elia Valori

Brexit – sanctioned and endorsed by a mass vote for Boris Johnson’s Tories – will be the great geopolitical turning point for Europe, obtorto collo, and for the United Kingdom itself.

In fact, the decision taken by Prime Minister Cameron in June 2016 to hold a referendum already showed what would happen.

Cameron thought the referendum would silence the Tories’ Brexit wing with a stunning defeat, but – as is well-known – this has not happened.

The British Tory Prime Minister, in fact, did not achieve his goals with the negotiations in Brussels that year. As already said, David Cameron clearly thought he could give a sop and keep the Brexit-friendly Tory minority happy, but truth will out.

Let us put aside the traditional explanations about the reasons for the UK-EU break: it is not a matter of maintaining the supremacy of old Anglia over the British territories, such as Scotland, Cornwall or Wales.

This assumption is often reiterated by refined parlour geopoliticians, but it clashes with the results in Wales, where the votes in favour of leaving the EU are 52.5%, while in Northern Ireland, but especially in Scotland, the leave votes reach only 44.2% and 38%, respectively.

If anything, the pro-Europeanism of the island peripheries shows that Brexit cannot be used to “keep” Scotland and Ireland, not the other way around.

Great Britain has always renounced the European criterion of even closer union.

We want our money back!” This is what Margaret Thatcher said at the European Council in Dublin in September 1979.

Boris Johnson’s “policy line” is exactly the same as Thatcher’s tradition.

Margaret Thatcher saw Jean Monnet-style dirigisme typical of the EU as a huge obstacle to her liberal and free-trade project to modernise and revitalise the British economy.

Not even De Gaulle, however, wanted Great Britain within the EU. “Take your dreams of independent power and stick them up your Eiffel Tower”, as a London popular song went, after the French veto on Britain’s entry into the EU in 1963.

The fact is that France, Great Britain and Germany have all thought of the EU as a tool for their own national geoeconomic and strategic projects, unlike Italy, which has always been frantically looking for international organizations, treaties and groups to replace a national sovereignty that the Italians – after World War II – did not want and for which they were not prepared.

Moreover, what Leo Longanesi called “the waiter’s psychology” has always led our ruling classes to think that the international agreements into which Italy entered were a “gift”, a “favour”, possibly a “tip”.

It should be recalled that Great Britain did not want to be one of the Six countries which founded the European Community.

Even the pro-Europeans, like Harold Macmillan, wanted a “functional” and day-by-day approach compared to the European one, considered dangerously “federal” and basically authoritarian.

Hence, for the current Brexit voters the European Union is a real “usurper” that has too much power, despite the strong lack of democratic and electoral legitimacy.

It should be recalled that the EU was an American idea to make the economies of NATO’s European countries grow, thus maintaining national social and political stability.

Nothing more, nothing less. We will see what will happen to the EU with the US slow loss of interest in the Atlantic Alliance.

Moreover the EU has become the myth of a “third power” between the United States and the Warsaw Pact, with the creation of a single currency that has made the British financiers laugh and has outraged the United States, that find this Euro in their way, which is not a real currency, since it is not a lender of last resort, but rather mimics real currencies. Furthermore, it is also a rigid currency and hence it releases – on the factors of production – the market tensions that would otherwise affect exchange rates, as has always happened.

There were two other EU aspects that the British ruling class never liked from the beginning: the overwhelming power of the European Commission and the Court of Justice, of course, but above all the overwhelming power of France and Germany in the main decisions and on the integration progress itself.

The British obstruction to EU policies, which began in the 1980s, – a typical case of “negative leadership” – were for decades the only way for Great Britain to oppose a process that seemed inertial and, in any case, led by naturaliter anti-British powers such as France and Germany.

It is not a reflection of old gunboat geopolitics. It is a strategic assessment that is still completely exact and topical for Great Britain.

Indeed, the EU always acts as if geopolitics and the primary strategic interests of a country did not exist, covered by the roar of Beethoven’s Ninth Ode to Joy.

All creatures drink of joy/At nature’s breasts/All the Just, all the Evil/Follow her trail of roses”.

 Archetypal images, universal brotherhood, justice based on freedom of thought, concord based on Reason… a typically Masonic Ode, for the Schillerian Finale of the Ninth Symphony.

But times are now very different from Joy for the Germans defeated by Napoleon, the “world spirit on horseback”, as Hegel once described him.

Geopolitical interests, however, are either national or they are not, and the various countries’ forgetfulness of the global strategy – with the EU – was huge and very dangerous.

Also in Great Britain the visible outbreak of the rebellion against the European Union, which materialized with Brexit, was the issue of uncontrolled immigration.

For Great Britain, the mass of arrivals consists of economic migrants coming mainly from Eastern Europe, a situation that has led the British governments to restrict freedom of movement and has put the welfare system – already shrinking after Thatcher’s reforms – in great difficulty.

The 1982 Howe plan, inspired by the Iron Lady, already assumed a mandatory private health insurance, a share of contributions for State schools and a network of private clinics that would slowly replace the National Health Service (NHS).

We do not think it is reasonable to dismantle the Welfare State, but it will certainly be necessary to rethink a system that gives everything to everyone, even to the rich people, and gives everything to all newcomers, thus inevitably reducing the possibility of providing care for the poor or the now proletarianized middle class.

 Instead of singing Ode to Joy, or possibly even the International, it would be better to study new systems to ensure dignity, health and good education to the poor people, but also to fund them with ad hoc taxes and fees paid by the rich people.

In our Western ideologies, we are still at the “Four Olds” against whom the ferocious and callow Maoist Red Guards polemicized: “Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits and Old Ideas”.

Therefore, Brexit can have the effect of rethinking also the EU “old” classifications.

An EU thinking about the East only to “bring democracy” with bombs or to destabilize the whole area, believing – as happens to all fools – to do good, or possibly to pedantically follow the North American strategic interests, which are not those of Europe.

As a man of great intellectual calibre, namely Alain Finkielkraut, said, “if Angela Merkel had not let one million immigrants into Germany in 2015, there would have been no Brexit“.

Hence Britain’s mass perception of an EU destabilising the nation States that are part of Europe, probably to weaken the national political regimes, possibly in search of a supranational sovereignty that is sometimes shown in some mediocre products of mainstream culture.

Pending Brexit, the EU has also been negotiating with Great Britain, using its negotiating superiority to maximise its potential.

Besides maintaining the principle of the four freedoms (freedom of goods, people, services and capital), the EU wanted above all to ensure that Ireland, including Northern Ireland, remained in the EU’s trade system.

Certainly, Theresa May’s soft Brexit created great tensions within her government, thus leading to the resignation of Ministers Boris Johnson and David Davis. However, the geopolitical essence of the issue is that the hard Brexit wanted by Johnson – who triumphed in elections – is a structural rapprochement to the United States, while both Britain’s stay in the EU and soft Brexit make the country remain within the French and German strategic area.

Hence the recent electoral choice made by Great Britain implies a clear defeat for France and Germany.

President Macron had also threatened Great Britain to make it “take backseat” and trail behind if hard Brexit materialized. Hence there would be a British blockade of French fishing vessels in British waters.

The soft Brexit agreement was certainly unfavourable for Great Britain: it would no longer be free to make bilateral trade agreements and treaties with any country, without the EU authorization, with EU goods and services freely entering the UK, but not the other way round. We can imagine what would have happened to Britain’s balance of payments.

Moreover, British financial services would have had a limited chance of entering EU markets.

A slipknot.

What will the hard Brexit produce? In the meantime a sharp deterioration in the already severe economic situation in Europe.

Brexit is above all a trade war, nothing else. Probably, the “hard” Brexit will produce recession and stagnation in many European nations.

Probably the British scenario will stimulate the strong no-Euro and no-EU minorities in the Euro countries to strengthen and demand not intermediate goals, but “everything”, i.e. exit from the EU.

At least for some time, it will stop the tendency to transfer national powers to the EU and, above all, it will quickly undermine the power of the European Court of Justice vis-à-vis individual States.

The French-German project was to strengthen the traditional trade freedoms for the whole EU but, at the same time, to protect their  “national champions” – and now Brexit is stopping this great operation.

Moreover, both Germany and France have always tried to “export” their labour market and welfare solutions to the rest of the EU, including to EU countries with much less tax revenue and much higher public debt, thus “damaging” possible European competitors and making their mergers & acquisitions operations in Southern Europe easier.

Currently this French-German project is over – and this is certainly not a bad thing.

Therefore, Brexit will favour a further separation between the Northern EU and the less developed Southern Euro area, not to mention the increasing separation between Central and Western Europe in terms of migration policy.

Germany can now use its differential with France to seek the support of smaller EU nations.

We will also have a medium-term scenario, which is very likely: the EU is losing much of its military potential and is no longer the second largest economy in the world, which would explain the much smaller EU budget – after Brexit – and the mounting of tension and contrast between the EU and the United States.

Furthermore, if Britain leaves the EU – as it will certainly do in the near future – it will increase Europe’s tendency to reach trade, energy and industrial agreements with the Russian Federation.

Following Brexit, the EU countries will be ever less able to make quick and effective strategic choices.

Hence Brexit is Britain’s acceptance of the fact that it wants and can play its own interests around the world, since the EU is not – if ever – a big player in the global geoeconomy.

If anything, it is a big protected market – and this is its essence, not some backup singers of Beethoven’s Ninth.

Considering that Great Britain has skilful ruling classes and brave people, it does not want to deal every step with the EU. It does not want to tie itself to a geopolitical project that it believes to have failed – and it is certainly not wrong. Finally, it does not want someone else in Brussels to prevent or favour its choices.

The EU is an assembly of accountants who believe they are a War Cabinet. The new Tory government is convinced that the faster Boris Johnson’s Brexit the more the EU will give in shamefully.

Certainly, Britain’s power projection that will materialize soon, with trade and financial agreements with the whole Commonwealth, Japan, South Korea and China will usher in a new phase of economic development in the country that, however, will be ever worse distributed.

 

 

 

GIANCARLO ELIA VALORI

Honorable de l’Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France

President of International World Group

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

December 2019