By SOLAPE LAWAL-SOLARIN
Most people must have thought that after weathering the Greek storm famously tagged “Grexit” last year that the EU had successfully meandered a delicate phase in its 41 year existence-a trying moment that questioned its relevance in the face of crunch economic tides ravaging member states.
But they were wrong. The “once bitten twice shy” adage did not work for the Union this time. Another Hurricane in “Brexit” came, swept and put asunder the matrimony between Brussels and London. It was one they never recovered from and one that has somewhat called into question the “One Europe” model.
Brexit has not only led another member state in the Czech Republic mooting the idea of a “Czechxit”-a referendum to decide whether to be or not to remain in EU-but also emboldened leader of a far-right party in non-member state Slovakia in Marian Kotleba and Eastern power Russia in feeling vindicated by their anti-west and EU stances.
A Brexit was quite possible because Britain unlike Greece was not at a breaking point economically. Besides, being the fifth largest economy in the world somehow made Britain’s exit from the Union feasible.
However, it wasn’t only Britain’s economic viability and stability that helped Brexit apologists at the polls. No; the EU indirectly had a hand in it. And by the time Brussels realized what she had done, it was already late.
Failure to reach a compromise with former British Prime minister David Cameron on salient issues; issues that bordered on British values, territorial sovereignty and immigration had already created a “crack in the wall” between both sides. And a breaking point was inevitable after Brussels failed to address the uncontrollable influx of refugees and illegal immigrants showing up on Europe’s doorsteps as a result of the war in Syria and upheavals in Iraq and Afghanistan. Rather, its decision to impose a refugee cap-a sharing formula aimed at resettling refugees among member states-riled Brits and the pro-Brexit conservative party in the parliament.
So, by the time the referendum took place, it was easier for Brits to make this historic decision-to dump the EU. The world deserves to know the truth behind Britain’s exit from the EU. Brits were persuaded to vote leaving the bloc solely because of what politicians felt was Britain’s inability to have a say “on who comes in and out of the Isle”. It was simply about territorial sovereignty and immigration.
With Eastern Europeans trooping in after Brussels extended its membership to some countries in the East, bet the influx of these new EU member states’ citizens with the burden of accommodating and settling refugees fleeing the war in Syria was too much a burden the country could cope with. Hence, a clean sweep at the polls by pro-brexit agitators could not be avoided by David Cameron led Liberals.
And, yes, a sweet victory for Brits who can finally have their identity and borders back. But, a tricky road lies ahead for Western Europe’s third largest economy.
Steering the isle nation from the murky waters of uncertainties to a new life without the EU is a slippery ground that the new government headed by conservative party Prime Minister Theresa May is stepping on. More than three decades of relationship with Europe cannot be severed without some side-effects. It is like “removing the umblical chord of a foetus in the womb.” A herculean task Theresa May and her team are aware of.
How and where to go from this phase is what Brussels and London are currently thrashing out as both sides hope to activate article fifty of the Union treaty to formally dissolve their marriage.
Knotty issues on free movement of people and goods, accessing credits and maintaining the financial status quo between British banks and their European counterparts would have to be re-negotiated between both parties. And a long, thorny battle is expected.
May knows this and has picked her team to pilot the country’s new status to safety.
All eyes would be on new foreign secretary Boris Johnson and Finance Minister Phillip Hammond’s ability to sell a new Britain to the rest of Western Europe still seething and sulking at her exit from the EU.
But up north in Scotland, the mood seems to be quite different.
While the Brits revel in the joy of a “Brexit”, their northern neighbours are not. The Scots still want to remain in EU and fears that Britain pulling out could signal their own exit too since both countries including Northern Ireland and Wales make up the United Kingdom. Something Pro-Scotland independence female party leader Strachan is unwilling to accept and has even suggested another independence referendum for the Scots.
Scotland’s insistence to remain in the Union is also creating distractions among member states of the continent’s super-political institution. Though, officials in Brussels sought to approach the issue as an “in-house thing” that must be left for the UK to treat, however, Madrid has taken a stance.
Mariano Rajoy, Spain’s Prime Minister bluntly stated that “if Britain leaves, Scotland leaves too” -a tactical and political message not only reflecting Madrid’s view of seeing Scotland as part of the UK but also reminding independence agitators in Spain’s Catalan province that the region is still seen as part of the Iberian country.
A “Scotexit” from the Kingdom could see Britain lose access to the off-shore oil reserves in Scottish waters. Something Theresa May would not like to see happen.
Hence, finding a solution to the Scottish rumblings would be part of a larger project her government will embark on in a Post-EU Britain.
But for Angela Merkel, the German chancellor and EU chair, moving on from “Brexit” is her ultimate goal. Brooding over a failed marriage between the Union and Britain is not her penchant as it clearly showed in her reaction saying “no going back on negotiations”.
Bet the rest of Europe is ready to trudge on without Britain-a new experience for the union.
*Lawal-Solarin writes from Lagos.