Rethinking Europe

The Battle for Britain’s Future in the EU

A German perspective

Credit: M-SUR


  • EU holds 16% of global trade – higher than 14% share held by China and 10% for the United States.
  • Why would the British leave EU when everything they wanted is being handed to them on a platter?
  • In the interconnected world of the 21st century, national sovereignty is a 19th century fairy tale.
  • Blaming Brussels for the economic failures of one’s national government is just lazy populism.

As hard it is to comprehend for the former island empire, if the majority of Britons vote to leave the EU, the United Kingdom would be transformed from a rule-maker to a rule-taker.

That would make it a rather curious choice for a country that has historically prided itself on being an empire where the sun never sets.

Things become rather simple when you do the math: The common market without Britain consists of 444 million people (and customers), the UK has 64 million (14%).

The EU’s GDP is $15.55 trillion as of 2014, while the UK’s stands at $2.945 trillion (about 19%).

It is thus very clear who will call the shots economically in any withdrawal agreement that the UK would have to negotiate. This becomes even clearer when considering the political context.

There will not be much sympathy for giving the UK what it wants when leaving. Consider, for example, that the French will embark on a heated presidential election campaign next year, with Marine LePen of the extreme right-wing Front National advocating a break-up of the Eurozone.

But even if the EU, for the sake of argument, were to be much nicer to the UK than it was to Switzerland or other non-EU countries in Europe in the bilateral negotiations with them, the UK would no longer be a deciding member of the biggest economic club on the planet.

Britain’s role in the world

As things stand, the EU holds 16% of global trade – higher than the 14% share held by China and 10% for the United States.

To assume that the UK will be able to enter into new, more favorable trade deals with other countries outside the EU is beyond comprehension.

The same accounts for the geopolitical standing of the UK in world affairs. The UK might manage to become a larger version of Switzerland or Norway after a few very rough initial years – if that is what the British political elite and the British people want.

Given the imperial history and the historic feelings of the British, this might be even harder to comprehend.

The nationalist dreams of right and left

Why would the British want to leave the EU at a moment when everything they ever wanted – having access to the Common Market but standing on the sidelines when it comes to an “ever closer union” – is being handed to them on a platter?

What is puzzling is not just the very real possibility of Britain leaving the EU right now, but to witness the strange alignment of the political right and left in the UK on this issue.

The right is playing the keys of national sovereignty and self-determination, hardly masking the hostile rhetoric against foreigners and immigrants.

Meanwhile, the left chimes in and complains about the EU’s anti-austerity mindset and inherent neoliberalism.

Both camps unite in pitting democracy in Britain against “un-democracy” in the EU.

What is badly missing is a reality check. In the interconnected world of the 21st century, national sovereignty is a 19th century fairy tale.

No single issue that makes the headlines these days – be it the influx of refugees, the geopolitical situation in the Middle East, the tensions with Russia, the rise of China as a global power, or the struggle against human-made climate change – can be addressed in a national reference frame.

Fight within the framework

No single nation can do anything about any of these challenges, yet they affect every single nation. There is no sovereignty unless you pool your resources and your political as well as economic clout.

The transnational association we call the European Union is the instrument to reassure sovereignty among its member nations on the basis of equals.

If you want sovereignty, you have to fight for it within the framework provided by the EU. Outside, it is good-bye and good riddance.

If the majority of the British people want a different economic policy, no problem. But address those complaints and demands for changes to Downing Street, not the Rue de la Loi in Brussels.

Blaming Brussels for the economic failures of one’s national government is just lazy populism.

Being a longstanding “Anglophile” myself, I honestly hope that common sense, this great British invention, will prevail in the coming months leading to the referendum date.

And that Britain decides to remain a strong part of the greatest European peace project of all times.

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About André Reichel

André Reichel is a Professor of Critical Management & Sustainable Development at Karlshochschule International University. Follow him @andrereichel

Responses to “The Battle for Britain’s Future in the EU”

Archived Comments.

  1. On February 29, 2016 at 6:12 am cybernaut62 responded with... #

    A very sensible post and you state exactly why we need to see off the Outers and vote to stay, to continue to play our part in the EU.

    The idea of ‘national sovereignty’ as put forward by so many on the Out side is – as you state – a 19th century myth.

    And that’s without the risk to the UK itself if we vote to leave, then you can expect many in Scotland to want to break away and rejoin the EU – which would further damage what was left of the UK’s economy..

    And it will also be a serious blow to the EU itself as it faces a resurgent Russia keen to reassert its interests in the Baltics adn the rest of Eastern and Central Europe.
    Best Cyber

  2. On February 29, 2016 at 6:24 am RightPaddock responded with... #

    When Brits look at their former colonies – India, Nigeria, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, even Canada parked next to the mighty US, they see countries which can project far greater independence than they can from within the EU.

    As a free trading nation they want to make there own BILATERAL deals with China, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, USA, India etc as Australia and New Zealand have done/are doing. What they don’t want is to first have to compromise with 27 other countries before Brussels talks to Beijing, Delhi etc.

    Churchill and De Gaulle both knew the “European Project” wouldn’t suit the Brits, they were both right.

  3. On March 1, 2016 at 12:00 pm Nightfalcon responded with... #

    I agree with the 2 commenters before.

    Brexit would give more freedom for UK on cost of prosperity – continental Europe should let them go. However, I doubt that many english are aware how tremendous the costs are.

    Economically seen, I wonder how a Brexit will change the finance driven economy of the UK in relation to the EU. I might well happen that Frankfurt will become the new finance hub in europe. Another possibility on the horizon is that the Tobin tax, combatted by UK for many years, will be finally implented in the EU. Loads of unpleasant scenarios from an english point of view.

    I like to pick up also the point of cybernaut62. I dare to foresee that Scotland will separate from England if an english majority will vote for Brexit while a scottish majority wants to stay. This will be a heavy blow against the self-conception of the UK and might cripple the intented target to reach more independency from other nations. From being part of a hated “Super State” directly to an “insignificant” part of Europe. Even more: what happens if Scotland becomes economically “Tiger State” and part of the Schengen Area. I believe this would cause a political earthquake in England.

  4. On March 1, 2016 at 4:03 pm Alhardus responded with... #

    Why should one suppose that Europe changes a whole lot if Britain were to opt out? Why, for instance, should one assume that the financial hub moves from London to Frankfurt? Does Frankfurt turn into a more innovative, more money wise and possibly less pound foolish place after the vote? I doubt it. Actually, I doubt that there will be any reverberating economic consequences after an initial huffing and puffing at the crossroads if Brexit came to pass. The best universities will remain in England, the most talent from around the world attracted to Europe will continue driving into Britain and English, for that matter, will remain the dominant language for Europeans to converse in. British soft power shall not be at all marred by Brexit. The reason for not worrying too much, it seems to me, is that we no longer live in the era of nation states but have reached an irreversible state of interdependence which leaves very little room for tit-for-tat prattle of a bygone era. True, currently the countries of the Old Continent appear to be reversing the course of history but I’d like to look at it as growing pains to be overcome this summer and to be flushed out of the system in the two year period after Brexit during which a political solution – not merely an economic one – can certainly be worked out.

  5. On March 2, 2016 at 8:27 am cybernaut62 responded with... #

    Hi Nightfalcon
    Thank you for this. As you say, the consequencesces for Brexit for the UK would be pretty unpalatable, particularly for England and rUK.

  6. On March 17, 2016 at 9:37 am Robert Altinger responded with... #

    If Scotland leave, wouldn’t the rest be the Formerly United Kingdom? Sadly the Brits only like clubs where they get to overrule everyone else, like the Commonwealth in the 1950s.

  7. On March 17, 2016 at 9:38 am Robert Altinger responded with... #

    Andre I agree with you about the madness, but not its conclusions. Why on earth would you want the Little Englanders to remain part of the great EU project, when they are so selfish and self-centered they don’t even understand the benefits? Let them go… it is the only way the rest of us will ever be able to realistically address the very real problems the EU faces with a view to creating a better structure for all of us.

  8. On March 17, 2016 at 10:31 am cybernaut62 responded with... #

    Hi Robert, indeed – although rUK has emerged as a shortform.