Analysis & Opinions - METRO U.N.

Brexit – Europe’s Role in International Affairs

| Sep. 12, 2018

Brexit will hurt economically – the UK more than the EU –and negatively affect Europe’s role in international affairs. But “hard Brexit” with the UK simply crashing out of the EU without any deal in March 2018, would be disastrous, whereas a “soft Brexit” in which both sides agree to a continued selective cooperation, notably in the trade field, would  minimize the negative impact on the economy and international role of both sides. However, many obstacles stand in the way of such an outcome.

Theresa May’s government faces a deeply divided Conservative Party, in which her attempts to preserve a minimum of free trade with the EU meet the fierce resistance of the hard line Brexiters. Moreover, the border between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic can only remain open under a free trade arrangement. The EU in turn finds it hard to reconcile its desire to continue a cooperative relationship after Brexit with its policy of opposing British “cherry picking” and its insistence on the established preconditions for free trade. 

It is estimated that, economically,  a “hard Brexit” would cost the UK about eight times more than the EU but the administrative consequences would be even worse for Britain since the application of WTO rules, the necessary emergency measure, the adoption of some 1000 pieces of EU law, and the renegotiations of some 40 trade agreements will absorb the energies of Britain’s administrative and political class for years  to come. This effect would be magnified if Scotland seeks independence from a post hard Brexit Britain. However, should a negotiated Brexit be achieved the negative consequences would be significantly reduced.

The impact of Brexit on the international role of the EU will depend on the character of the separation and how the EU reacts to it. Britain’s departure weakens that role because the union would loose a major modern economy, a capable diplomatic corps with a great international experience, and one of the two leading military contributors to the EU’s security posture.

But Brexit also has the effect of mobilizing unifying forces within the EU. To be sure, US policy under President Trump that challenges the existing liberal order, the EU and the Atlantic security structure has  helped to trigger European moves toward greater self reliance, such as proposals by President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and German Foreign Minister Maas. These two developments have reinforced the belief that the Union must overcome its internal divisions and strengthen its international role. Moreover, Britain’s departure removed its constant opposition to European approaches in defense policy.

Brexit will not substantially change the EU’s global role as the second largest economy with $ 19,7 trillion GDP (2018) and about 500 million consumers. A hard Brexit would remove about $ 2.7 trillion GDP and some 65 million consumers, a negotiated separation would keep them associated. Consequently Europe will inevitably remain a leader in shaping rules and institutions of the world economy.

Not surprisingly the UK and the EU have agreed to cooperate in the field of foreign and security policy after Brexit,  since their interests converge on many issues: the Paris climate accord, the nuclear deal with Iran, defense against Russia and sanctions on Ukraine, to name a few, many of which are positions against the Trump Administration’s posture. Indeed, the EU’s Foreign Policy Head Mogherini stated recently that “the very idea of multilateralism is increasingly challenged”, and in this respect there remains a common task for the EU and Britain after Brexit “to work for a more cooperative world order...and to avoid that the world collapses completely”.

For more information on this publication: Please contact the Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Kaiser, Karl.“Brexit – Europe’s Role in International Affairs.” METRO U.N., September 12, 2018.

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