Britain Gives the EU Formal Notice: Let the Game Begin!
Consider this statement, written in January 1973, the month Britain joined the European Economic Community.
Britain is going to look back on Monday, January 1, 1973 … as a most tragically historic date—a date fraught with ominous potentialities!
That remark, made by Herbert Armstrong 44 years ago, was never more prescient than it was this past Wednesday, March 29, 2017. At 12:30 p.m., British Prime Minister Theresa May had a letter delivered to European Council President Donald Tusk, formally informing the EU that Britain was withdrawing from the Union. The clock is running and Britain now has two years to negotiate its exit.
Wednesday was a historic day for Britain and the EU. But perhaps even for the rest of the world. Two years from now, Britain and Europe will look, sound and behave very differently from how they do today. What, exactly, will Europe look like in two years? What shape will Britain be in? It’s impossible to know exactly. It’s also impossible to anticipate the details of how this negotiation will play out. Other than Greenland in 1984, no nation has ever left the EU. And Greenland in 1984—no offense to Greenlanders—wasn’t nearly as central to the EU’s identity and operation as Britain is today.
One thing is certain: Britain’s extraction from the EU is “fraught with ominous potentialities.”
Following Wednesday’s announcement, Richard Palmer and I exchanged e-mails about Brexit, and specifically some facets of Brexit we think will be interesting to watch. Between us, we came up with seven “ominous potentialities.”
RP: First, I’m curious to see the impact Brexit negotiations will have on British politics.
Britain is divided on Brexit. Almost half the nation voted to stay; just over half voted to leave. Brexit divides almost all of Britain’s political parties. The Conservatives have been split over this for decades. Labour is traditionally pro-Europe, but its new leadership is much more euroskeptic. Meanwhile, among the Brexiteers, there is no agreement on what comes next. Some are pro-free trade—they disliked the EU because it was too protectionist. Others are anti-free trade. Some want more immigration, others viewed immigration as a key reason to leave the EU. Even ukip—the United Kingdom Independence Party—is starting to crack and split under these pressures. This week, ukip’s only member of Parliament quit the party.
BM: Following on from that point, I’m curious about the impact Brexit negotiations might have on relations between Britain’s public and its leadership.
Seventy-three percent of British M.P.s wanted Britain to remain in the EU. The House of Lords was horrified by the referendum decision to exit. More than 70 percent of the nation’s business leaders felt Britain needed to remain. The point being, Britain’s elites never wanted to leave the EU. But Britain’s working class, the builders and bakers, the nurses and teachers, did. What happens if the elites don’t produce the deal the public wants? What happens if the elites drag their feet? What happens if the elites, in the fine print, keep Britain attached to the EU? What happens if Theresa May negotiates a bad deal?
Britain, like many other Western countries, has a small but loud and growing contingent of people who dislike the elite and dislike mainstream politics and politicians. If Ms. May and her team don’t come through, this antigovernment sentiment could bloom.
RP: I’m also interested to see what impact this will have on the union between the four nations of the UK.
Brexit stands to impact each of the four nations of the UK differently, and these four nations absolutely do not see this issue the same way. Scotland does not want to leave the EU and is exploiting Brexit as an excuse to hold a new referendum on independence. The Welsh already feel as if they’ve been excluded from the process. Northern Ireland, though, is probably most affected, due to its complicated relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the ever present threat of violence. Can Prime Minister May keep the United Kingdom united?
BM: Will the negotiation, and even the broader EU-Britain relationship, become vindictive?
Listening to British pundits talk, I get the impression that many believe it will be straightforward and simple. There’s a lot of “Britain will do this” and “Britain won’t do that.” Some, it seems, are forgetting that there is another party at the negotiating table, and that the EU is not without leverage. The EU will enter negotiations with interests it wants to protect and further. It has objectives it wants to accomplish. It’s hard for me to see the EU quickly and easily acquiescing to Britain’s every demand. Remember too, each of the remaining 27 EU member states will have to agree to the deal Brussels negotiates with Britain.
Finally, it is not in the EU’s interest to give Britain a stellar deal. It doesn’t want to send the message to other EU member states, many of which are seeing a rise in anti-EU sentiment, that you can leave the EU and life gets fabulous. At the end of the day, these are two opposing forces with competing interests, and it will be interesting to see how competitive and vindictive the relationship becomes.
RP: One of the more obvious questions is, What will be the ultimate economic and financial consequences for Britain?
Ahead of the vote, those supporting the EU warned of an immediate financial Armageddon if Britain voted to quit. That hasn’t happened—but that doesn’t mean there is no danger. Over 10 percent of Britain’s economy comes from financial services, most of which are centered in London. This is the real engine of Britain’s export industry. Europe has long been jealous of Britain’s success here, and if it uses Brexit to attack it, this would devastate Britain’s economy. There is also a whole host of questions about exports.
RP: I’m also interested to see if Britain’s departure facilitates the collapse of the EU.
To many observers, Europe is dying. And I agree that it certainly looks that way. The euro—its most ambitious attempt at integration—is going from crisis to crisis. Then there’s the immigration crisis, problems with Islamist terrorism, the crisis in relations with Russia, and the populist parties sweeping the Continent in this year of vital elections. Brexit adds to the sense that the wheels are coming off the Europe project. Other member states are looking at Britain’s behavior and reevaluating their role in the EU. Even pro-EU leaders are asking, Where do we go from here? Will Brexit start a chain of departures from the EU?
BM: Good question, and a nice segue into something I can’t help but wonder: Will Germany exploit Brexit to re-create the EU into a distinctly German edifice?
This is an historic moment for the EU. And you’re right, considering the multitude of other crises it faces, it’s easy to see the EU falling apart and descending into irrelevance. Then again, what if an existential crisis is exactly what the EU needs to figure out who it truly is? Most European governments say they want a united Europe. Brexit will test their commitment to that goal. Some, no doubt, will be exposed as casual believers. Others might be compelled to work harder to make the idea of European integration work. Will we see a tighter, more efficient, more nimble European Union emerge?
This is absolutely possible. Some European leaders are already saying that this is what needs to happen. Germany will be key. The immediate future of the EU will depend on Germany and what it wants to do. Will Berlin exploit Britain’s departure and the existential crisis it creates to refashion the EU? It’s hard to see Europe turning its back on the notion of integration. Since World War ii, that’s all it has talked about and worked toward. To me, the most logical path now is for Germany to take the failing EU and reconfigure it into a German-designed, German-led united power.
Of course, this idea will alarm anyone who understands history and Bible prophecy. But I think it will appeal to many Europeans, especially northern Europeans. And it’s hard to see America, Britain or any other major world power—except perhaps Russia—taking issue with Germany turning the EU into a more efficient, more nimble, more aggressive entity.
There you have it. Lots of questions and no good answers, at least not when it comes to the details. One thing is certain, however, Mr. Armstrong was right. Jan. 1, 1973, was a day “fraught with ominous potentialities”—and over the next two years, those potentialities will be made manifest.