Rethinking Europe

A Long-Term Fight Over British Identity

Brexit is not so much about the UK’s relationship with the rest of Europe than it is about determining the nature and structure of the UK itself.

Credit: Prachatai


  • Brexit is not about the UK’s relationship with Europe, but determining the nature and structure of the UK itself.
  • It was May’s short-sighted move to trigger Art. 50 before her government had agreed an exit strategy that has pushed the UK into this position.
  • The UK must revoke Art. 50, at least until a possible, eventual post-Brexit deal is more or less fully negotiated.
  • The only thing that revocation of Art.50 would deny the British people is the collective opportunity to jump off a cliff with no parachute.

Everyone, in the UK and on the continent, would do well to acknowledge that Brexit is not so much about the UK’s obviously strained relationship with the rest of Europe than it is about determining the nature and structure of the UK itself.

Given that fundamental truth, the efforts of those among the EU27 who are prepared to kick the Art. 50 procedure yet further down the road are feeding a grand illusion. More specifically, they demonstrate a completely inadequate appreciation of the fundamental nature of the task that lies ahead for Britain.

Far beyond the technical-sounding Irish backstop issue, what is at stake is the very question of the territorial integrity of the UK. Beyond Northern Ireland, the question of respecting Scotland’s unshakable wishes to remain in the EU has also gone unanswered.

It’s about identity, stupid

The entire Brexit debate is really one about British identity – and its amazingly unsorted nature. It will take decades to sort this out, if it ever will be sorted out.

On Brexit, the crux of the political issue lies in the de facto existence of an English – not British – Nationalist Party (ENP). Although not existing by such a name, it can count on a sizable contingent in the House of Commons.

Most of the de facto members of the English Nationalist Party are Tories — although quite a few Tories much prefer for the UK to remain in the EU. And quite a few ENP representatives are from Labour ranks, mainly representing England’s economically depressed north.

Defying all logic, the members of the de facto ENP faction in the House of Commons believe that the only thing that keeps the UK from reaching greatness again is the country’s membership in the EU.

They will never be reconciled to Europe. Ardent nationalists, they have no sense of the economic facts of life. As reckless peddlers of nationalism, in their view no such trivia should ever be allowed to enter into political calculations.

That is why the likes of Boris Johnson and the members of the ERG – the shamelessly misnamed “European Research Group” – never have any qualms to spread even the most grotesque economic lies.

The Brexit-Trump connection

Operating in that manner – relying completely on impulse and bar any logic – also is the hallmark of the Trump act in the United States.

The UK plutocrats’ real political motivation is the effort to uphold the class structure of British society, rooted as it is in the 19th century. Contrary to their protestations, they don’t care much about sovereignty.

What they worry about is the EU being determined to pursue policy prescriptions that provide working people with economic rights. Nothing is more alien to the reactionary promoters of Brexit and their sponsors, from the plutocrat newspaper owners to Russian dark money, than to embrace such ideas.

Which is also what, on the other end of the ideological divide, makes Jeremy Corbyn’s opposition to the UK’s EU membership so perplexing.

In disaster lies an opportunity

The current upheaval brought on by the Brexit maneuver also presents an amazing opportunity to remake the political landscape of the UK.

This would involve the formation of a centrist party consisting, broadly speaking, of pro-European Tories and market-oriented Labour MPs.

The Withdrawal Agreement was mere foreplay

Such a grand restructuring aside, in the trenches of negotiations across the Channel, Britons and Europeans, to use the English way of putting things, also need to be far more realistic about the arduous road that lies ahead.

The Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration are but a very soft foreplay of the tough and mega-complicated negotiations that lie ahead on the future relationship.

Considering the case of Switzerland, a country far more in tune with continental legal and cultural traditions, with which the EU’s negotiations are still incomplete (and have already lasted over seven years), any agreement with the UK side will take a very long time.

In the real world, this is also how long the negotiating part of the Brexit process would effectively have to stay open. Only then would the British people really know what their vote in the June 2016 referendum ultimately meant.

Revoking Art. 50 is the only viable option

Under these circumstances, one can only hope that the faction of the European Council made up by France, Spain and Belgium will call the UK’s bluff and, by preventing unanimity, ensure that Mrs. May will NOT be offered any extension of Art. 50 this coming Wednesday, April 10th.

To keep her country from falling off the cliff, and assuming that “her” deal will continue to fail finding a parliamentary majority, she would then be forced to do the only viable thing. And that is for the UK to revoke the Art. 50 declaration, at least until such a time that a possible, eventual post-Brexit deal is more or less fully negotiated.

That would actually be a very courageous and pro-European move on Macron’s part, for it would keep the British inside the EU for the foreseeable future.

It would also be generous, as France’s power inside the EU would certainly increase without the UK being a member.

Justice for May’s daring

Of course, there are those – even in anti-Brexit ranks in the UK – who argue that this is an impossible move to make for any British prime minister as it would mean denying the British people their choice of Brexit.

But this is not true. The only thing that revocation would deny the British people is the collective opportunity to jump off a cliff with no parachute.

And the person to do that is none other than Theresa May. It was her stunningly short-sighted move to trigger the Art. 50 two-year departure time frame before her government had even agreed a viable exit strategy within itself that has pushed the UK into this position.

As the world knows, to this very day the Tories have not managed to agree on such a strategy amongst themselves.

Such recklessness cannot be carried out on Europe’s back. The EU27 has other important business to attend to.

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About Stephan Richter

Director of the Global Ideas Center, a global network of authors and analysts, and Editor-in-Chief of The Globalist.

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