SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.59 issue2 author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


EKSTEEN, Riaan. Brexit's political and economic consequences and historical realities. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2019, vol.59, n.2, pp.265-291. ISSN 2224-7912.

In an attempt to determine the significance of Brexit, I analyse both the internal (national) and international consequences of Prime Minister (PM) Theresa May's ongoing attempts at negotiating the United Kingdom's (UK's) withdrawal from the European Union (EU). At the time of writing this article (May 2019), it has become clear that Brexit is a foreign-policy issue for the rest of Europe. In London, however, it revolves primarily around a battle for domestic power and the survival of the UK as a political unit. Seldom before has the impact of domestic affairs on foreign affairs been so vividly demonstrated as in the case of political divisions in the UK driving foreign-policy positions on Brexit and, in particular, PM May's hard line position with respect to the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Because of this fixation on and preoccupation with the ECJ the UK views many of its position points through this ECJ-prism. The issue of the Irish border touches the soul of the UK. The continuation of its four united entities is at stake. As are peace arrangements that have lasted now for more than 30 years. Of all the remaining EU countries the Republic of Ireland (RI) will experience the consequences of Brexit the most - in whatever shape or form it materialises. The emergence of the Irish backstop border issue as a deal breaker during the parliamentary debates on Brexit in the latter part of 2018 caused havoc. In the final analysis Brexit is not just about tariffs or trade and their consequences: it is about history, and making sure it is not repeated. This is a real concern. The backstop was an attempt to avoid renewed instability in Northern Ireland (NI) and is an effort to avoid a hard border between the RI and NI. Opponents argue that it could keep the UK trapped in the EU's customs union and keep the UK enmeshed in the EU. The siren call of the Brexit campaign was for the UK to "take back control". It was stubbornly determined to regain its distinctive identity in the world, how it chooses to proceed in the world and to formulate a previously untested approach. To achieve that PM May adopted a hard line approach to Brexit. She drew red lines and endorsed previous ones. Each one of them - and the one on the ECJ in particular - was incompatible with the relationship between the UK and the EU. But, she drew them nevertheless. More so in an effort to appease the anti-EU wing of her party. Brexiteers mobilised around the slogan of regaining control which then became a policy objective. Three years later nobody was in control. The failure to take back control was due to the PM failing to take and keep control. With her laid down contradictory red lines, breaking them was inevitable. Removing the UK from the purview of the ECJ is a delicate and sensitive issue with questions being raised over whether the UK can totally sever all ties with the Court without harming relations with the EU. The reasons why any future relationship with the EU will be nearly impossible without the Court are equally numerous. Whatever position the UK adopted it would not escape ECJ-related consequences. Considered from PM May's hard line standpoint on the Court it was a fact that she could hardly bear to contemplate. The EU has one common purpose. Foremost, it was determined to ensure that its Court continues to be the protector of all that have been created by the Union for the well-being of its Member States and their citizens, whether the negotiations with the UK succeeded or failed. European integration has brought peace and prosperity to Europe and allowed for an unprecedented level of cooperation on matters of common interest in a rapidly changing world. For the EU economic and political integration are intertwined and have been advanced and enhanced by the ECJ. PM May's red line on the ECJ overshadowed the negotiations and caused her headaches both internally and with the EU. Her negotiations with the EU on this issue and other crucial matters required patience, diplomatic ability and skill, together with an in depth understanding of the workings of all the EU institutions. The UK displayed no sign of any of these qualities. The Withdrawal Agreement, which PM May negotiated would be legally binding once it was approved by the UK Parliament and EU Members and ratified by the EU Parliament. It will thereafter govern the terms of the UK's departure from the EU. Its draft provisions include a transition period ending on 31 December 2020. Coupled with this Agreement is the non-binding Political Declaration. It details the UK's longer-term relationship with the EU. It envisages an ambitious, broad, deep and flexible partnership. On Brexit the EU stands united as never before; the UK is regarded simply as a divisive entity. To exarcerbate matters, the UK government consistently underestimated the EU's resolve to stay united. Furthermore, it tried and failed dismally to drive a wedge between Member States and the EU Commission. Its Ministers misled themselves and the public in the UK into believing that the continentals would cave in because of their trade surplus with the UK. Ministers were either not briefed or ignored briefings on critical core features of the EU that conditioned the latter's approach and drove its ambition to stay united and speak with one voice. Seldom before have 27 States acted in such unison. By contrast, divisiveness characterised the UK's performance. UK officials knew right from the start that a leaving state was required to accept the EU position as the basis for the talks. In the Brexit talks, it was 27 to one. But their Ministers and not least of all their PM gave the impression that the UK had equal political weight to the EU in the negotiations. They minimised the difficulties. They implied the talks would be a walkover. When reality dawned, they accused the EU of stubbornness and unwillingness to cooperate. They questioned the good faith of their EU interlocutors. When they were not doing that they cried victory after every encounter with the EU negotiators. It would serve the UK well to approach the new round of negotiations with a new frame of mind so as to give substance to a future relationship with the EU. One that would treat their European counterparts as worthy negotiating partners and not as foil for use in domestic politics.

Keywords : Dead lines; red lines; European Arrest Warrants; European Court of Justice; European integration; European Union; Irish backstop; Jurisdiction; Parliament; Political Declaration; Prime Minister May; Territorial integrity; White Papers; Withdrawal Agreement.

        · abstract in Afrikaans     · text in Afrikaans     · Afrikaans ( pdf )


Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License