By Grace Shi
Since the British referendum to leave the European Union last June, there has been much speculation over how the UK plans to change its role as not only a European nation, but also a global one. British Prime Minister, Theresa May, triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty—which created the EU—on March 29, 2017, starting the two-year Brexit process. Now the country faces challenges with reconciling its Brexit goals.
Brexit goals include maintaining a close enough relationship between the UK and the EU to minimize economic and business disruptions, satisfying those who want a “global Britain” but also wish to pursue independent trade deals, and preserving the unity of the UK amidst rising nationalistic tendencies in Scotland and Ireland.
These goals conflict with each other and with the original intent of the “Leave” and “hard” Brexit mentality. For many Brexiters, “Leave” meant not only striking independent trade deals, but also cutting regulations and taxes linked to EU membership and limiting immigration.
However, the EU has made it clear that although it would like to seek the “deep and special partnership” that May recently expressed interest in, it cannot let the UK reap the benefits of Brexit without the costs. The EU’s negotiating guidelines for a new trade deal with the UK emphasize important fiscal, social, and environmental regulations that the UK must follow. In reality, these policies would mean that the UK would be signing for Associate EU membership in all but name.
Now, the prospects for a “hard” Brexit are uncertain. Since triggering Article 50, May seemed to acknowledge that British businesses would have to follow EU rules when dealing with the EU. This is because the consequences of a breakdown in the legal and economic frameworks that form the foundation for current trade, finance, and security in Europe would be too severe. Ministers also acknowledged that immigration may even increase after Brexit, since the UK is likely to continue abiding by the EU’s Four Freedoms, including movement of people, goods, services, and capital. The British service sector, which makes up 80% of the British GDP, will find it especially difficult to provide competitive services to the rest of Europe if these freedoms are not guaranteed. This highlights the transition of Brexit’s focus from national and cultural identity towards the economic realities of disrupting European relationships.
These conflicts raise the question of what it means to be a “global” country. In the past, globalization was strongly connected to free trade and interdependence between countries. With the rise of nationalism around the world—as seen through Brexit, the current French election, and even Donald Trump’s presidency—it seems that the meaning of globalization has been subverted. Although nations still want to trade with each other, they are more inclined to negotiate on their own terms and preserve national sovereignty, as opposed to regional power. In the UK’s case, Brexit will likely be a move by politicians to claim they’ve preserved this sovereignty, while allowing them to maintain the status quo with the EU.