Brexit has been a warning sign for the integration process – the EU must reshape itself as a project for the ‘left behind’
The deal reached between the UK and the EU in December last year has been touted as the final act in the Brexit saga. Yet as Uğur Tekiner writes, there is still a lot of uncertainty about the future relationship between the UK and the EU and the impact of Brexit on the EU.
The world may be in the grip of the Covid-19 pandemic, but not long ago another issue was making headlines in Europe: Brexit. Following the end of trade talks between the UK and the EU at the end of last year, the dust seems to have finally subsided as both sides are adjusting to the post-Brexit era. But have we really reached the end point in UK-EU relations?
Although touted as a largely internal UK issue, Brexit is a distinctly European phenomenon. And while the two sides seemingly parted ways with the trade deal, they were forced to keep in regular contact. The interdependent relationship between the UK and the EU ensures that there will be further twists and turns in the years to come. Indeed, there are at least three reasons why Europe will continue to be a major issue in British politics.
First, Europe still represents a fault line in relations between the four constituent nations of the United Kingdom. Five years have passed since the Brexit referendum, but there has still been no reconciliation between Northern Ireland and Scotland, which voted to stay in the European Unionand England and Wales, who voted in favor of leaving. The continued relevance of this split was again underlined in the 2021 Scottish Parliament election on 6 May. If there is a new referendum on Scottish independence, it will be largely because of the impact of Brexit.
Second, the societal fractures along the class, educational, generational and geographic lines that marked the Brexit referendum are far from resolved. Over time, Remain and Leave have become powerful identifiers through which different sections of British society can express their dissatisfaction with politics. The complex meanings attached to these identities require a political response, not only in the context of Brexit, but in relation to the relevant socio-economic realities that underlie them.
Third, the EU will continue to be used by a series of British Eurosceptic forces. European integration has been a convenient scapegoat for the failures of the British political system since the 1970s. The allure of blaming Brussels is unlikely to disappear altogether, particularly if the negative consequences of Brexit manifest in areas such as as workers’ rights and international trade. The tensions that have already arisen between the UK and the EU regarding Vaccines against covid-19 highlight the extent to which Eurosceptic narratives are likely to remain relevant after Brexit.
Brexit as a European phenomenon
From the EU perspective, the UK’s departure represented the loss of a so-called ‘clumsy partner’. Yet the EU has also lost one of its most populous member states, not to mention its greatest military power, second economy and most important financial center. There was an inevitable change over the course of european integration Therefore. This change has the potential to create new divisions among member states, especially between Euro zone countries and outside the euro zone, net payers and net beneficiaries of the EU budget and between Northern and Southern Member States, and East and West.
As such, what makes Brexit a truly European phenomenon is its ability to expose fundamental tensions within the EU. In this context, it can also be seen as a opportunity to resolve issues present in the onboarding process. The UK’s exit has once again highlighted the long-standing issue of the EU’s democratic deficit, which will need to be tackled from a broader perspective in the aftermath of Brexit.
Whatever other Member States think of the UK, it is recognized that the EU institutions would benefit from far-reaching reforms. It is not simply a question of rebalancing the distribution of competences between the national and supranational levels, or of resolving the tensions between the Council, the Commission and the European Parliament. On the contrary, the British referendum underlined the need to appeal to the losers of globalization and, for that matter, to the losers. european integration. This will require that the EU, which has long been seen as the land of the ‘better off’, also becomes a project for the ‘left behind’.
The threat of European disintegration the aftermath of Brexit has turned the apparently irreversible course of an “ever closer union”. In the face of growing challenges, the future of the EU is now uncertain and effective leadership will be needed to set a clear course for the integration process. Likewise, it remains to be seen whether the UK and the EU can develop a sense of mutual trust, or whether suspicion and mistrust will come to characterize their relationship. What is beyond doubt, however, is that while Brexit can be ‘done’, the process is far from over.
Note: This article gives the author’s point of view and not the position of EUROPP – European Politics and Policy or the London School of Economics. Featured Image Credit: CC-BY-4.0: © European Union 2020 – Source: PE