Today I read a featured comment at The Guardian, that tries to explain the current much less than elegant stance of the proponents of a “Brexit”: They never intended to win. They had no plan for it. Boris Johnson just wanted to get rid of David Cameron, and now that Cameron refuses to invoke article 50, Johnson is left without any sensible choice. Game over.
So, here we are – in an awkward position for everybody. Populism and pissing contests between rivaling Tory leaders have driven UK and EU into a situation that no responsible, thinking person could have wanted.
And it’s a situation with no obvious exit strategy. The EU simply can’t accept leaving the UK all benefits of membership without them having to pay for it. Doing so would rip the EU apart. The UK on the other hand, at least under a Tory government, can’t just say “OK, sorry, we didn’t really mean it”. It would rip the Tories apart.
Now let’s just have a look at the possible options. Let’s say the UK gets out. It is still entangled with Europe in any sort of way, politically, economically, whatever, and they decide for the Norwegian way. Norway is not a member of the EU, but it has close ties and it participates in the European Economic Area. Thus they enjoy their independence and still have the big free market. Basically that’s what Boris Johnson just said: “We’ll stay in the European Economic Area”. Why not? Sounds sensible, right?
Well, in order to participate, Norway has to closely follow the EU’s regulations, but without having a vote. So that’s for independence.
Now let’s look at the money. We know that the £350 million per week were a lie, but let’s get some real figure and do the math. According to fullfact.org, the UK’s net contribution for 2015 was a whopping £8.5 billion, that is €10.21 billion. For each of the UK’s 64.1 million inhabitants this amounts to €159.28. Norway’s financial contribution sums up to €866 million. Basically they pay for all those benefits that the UK wants to retain. Given Norway’s population of 5.084 million, that makes for a per capita contribution of €170.34. That’s for the money.
Whichever way you look at it, Brexit is an astoundingly stupid idea. The UK has nothing to win, they’ll only lose their vote.
OK, let’s pretend it was neither about regulations nor about the money, which is wrong, but let’s pretend anyway. Let’s say it was only about immigration and the closing of borders. But that is a mess as well. Calais is not England’s real problem. There’s always the Channel.
The real problem is Northern Ireland. Will the UK close borders to Ireland? The majority in Northern Ireland won’t accept that. We already hear voices pleading for Irish unity, and given the reality of the fragile equilibrium in Northern Ireland, a secession is simply not possible. For me this sounds more like a recipe for another explosion of violence.
And then there is Scotland. Just like the Irish, they are apalled by the idea of a Brexit, and they are so much so, that the next move for independence is already on its way. This time they’ll likely succeed, and then the UK has another extremely problematic border with mixed populations on both sides. What will they do? Ethnic cleansing?
The more I think of it, the more it reminds me of the breakup of Yugoslavia. It was completely unnecessary, cost around 140.000 lives, displaced four million people and created eternal hate. Slovenia and Croatia made it into the EU and can now be considered prosperous states again. Serbia, Montenegro and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia are in a worse position and Bosnia and Kosovo are still a mess.
I have no figures for the value of destroyed housing and infrastructure, much less for the economic loss due to the long war, but we can safely assume it to be gigantic. Everybody would have been better off had they just found a political solution and had finally joined the EU. It probably wouldn’t have been as early as Slovenia, but it could easily have been before 2013, the year we could welcome Croatia.
Let’s face it: in a time of global problems and a globalized economy, small nation states are not the solution to anything. The smaller the state, the less leverage it has in international treaties and against multi-national corporations.
For instance the EU forced suppliers of mobile phones to provide a common charching plug. That was a good thing. Could England and Wales alone have done that? Likely not. Austria? Definitely not.
You know my stance regarding TTIP. I’m strictly against it, but would it have helped Austria to make its own free trade aggreement with the US? Would we have been in a better position than as part of the “buerocratic” EU? I doubt it.
And here we are, stuck in the middle of a nightmare. The current Prime Minister won’t do anything to fix it. The next Tory PM won’t find a solution either. My best case scenario is that the UK stalls in limbo for a few months, that their government has to give up and call for general elections before anything conclusive has been done, that Labour wins the next elections, that they manage to talk sense into their population before a new referendum, and that the new referendum is decisively in favor of remaining in the EU. Sounds unlikely? Yes, but surprisingly so do all the alternatives.