By Amity Saha*
In a historic referendum on June 23 of this year, the people of Britain voted for a British exit from the European Union, popularly called ‘Brexit’. The decision has already made some recognisable changes in the political setting of Britain.
The June 23 referendum is not legally binding yet. It may take two years of planning and work to make Brexit really happen, once article 50 is invoked. So what is this article 50? According to Article 50: any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements. A Member State (of the European Union) which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that Member State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. So, we can see that for starting the Article 50 procedures, the UK needs to create a formal decision to leave the EU and notify the EU Council of member states of this decision.
EU and UK both used to get mutual benefit and assistance from each other. Within the European Union, free movement of labour helped British people to live and work in other European countries, quite the same way in which people from other Member States were given the permit to reside and work within the United Kingdom. According to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) World Investment Report 2010, roughly 1.6 million British reside in the EU, outside the UK. The UK at present enjoys considerable influence both in and through the EU. This would certainly get reduced if the UK leaves the EU.
The UK’s formal supremacy comes from the power of veto and voting power in both the Council and the European Parliament. The UK would not benefit from the same protection outside the EU. The UK may lose influence in the international fora. For example, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) would be one place where collaboration among EU states has helped the UK to pursue international negotiations with success. The UK may also discover its diplomatic massiveness gets reduced in the light of its impeding exit. Europhiles are worried that foreign companies will be less likely to invest in the UK now and could transfer their headquarters.
The EU will definitely witness a decline in influence in foreign policy and military matters after Brexit, especially as Britain is one of the permanent members of the UN Security Council. The United Kingdom has been a great hub of soft power through its cultural and linguistic base through all over the world. This is a source of influence for the EU also. Soft power is the capacity of a country to modify the behaviour of others through the means of attraction and persuasion instead of coercion or payment. The UK always ranks highly in international surveys of soft power and if the UK leaves the EU, this will reduce the bloc’s soft power strength. Even the rest of the EU has benefitted from the position of UK in international institutions, including the G8, the G20, the IMF, the World Bank, the OECD, IEA, the UNSC, the FSB, and the UNFCCC. The UK has managed to provide the EU members more leverage when applying sanctions, mainly in the financial sector. In Europe, this is matched simply by France now.
Another question is whether the international agreements accomplished by the EU will continue to apply to the UK after Brexit or not. If this would continue, which mechanisms will it now work with? Even if the EU along with its remaining 27 member countries continue to uphold their regional legal commitments in the post-Brexit scenario vis-à-vis Britain, it cannot be denied that concerns related to these commitments would at some point of time emerge and question the validity of maintaining the ties which the UK has voluntarily renounced. In some cases, particularly in the economic domain, these worries have already emerged.
Undeniably, those who are advocating for a more tethered union and are supporters of the European project are frustrated by this referendum. Any other further fragmentation in EU is bound to leave them heartbroken and, to avert which, they might be compelled to adopt a tough stance with Britain in future negotiations. The politics of UK has already witnessed a massive re-alignment, but foreseeing how this will end up is an extremely difficult task.
*Amity Saha is a Research Assistant (Int’l Affairs) at Bangladesh Institute of Law and International Affairs (BILIA). She can be reached through at: [email protected]