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Boris Johnson’s Brexit victory was a Pyrrhic victory




To the winner, the booty. Boris Johnson won the UK referendum on EU membership just over five years ago, won the Conservative Party leadership in July 2019, struck a deal with the EU in October and won a decisive victory under the UK first round. -the system of posts in the legislative elections in December. He remade his country. But did he do it again for better or for worse? Has he increased the opportunities for the British, or has he reduced them? Has he made the UK more influential and prosperous, or less? My answer to all these questions is: “these”. But I admit that this is still the beginning of this story.

One point that emerged quickly (and not surprisingly to anyone in the know) is that Brexiters misunderstood the EU. Anand Menon from UK on Changing Europe Initiative at King’s College Remarks that Dominic Raab (now Minister of Foreign Affairs) said in april 2016 that “we can have adequate control of our borders but we don’t need to be bound by all this stifling regulation. . . and it is certainly not in the interests of Europeans to erect trade barriers ”. The EU disagreed. Many barriers now exist: they will remain.

Chart showing the UK may be sovereign, but it's not the EU's equal

The reason for this predictable outcome was that members regard the preservation of the EU legal order, including the single market, as a primary interest. This is clear from “EU-UK 2030”, a paper of the same unit. Take Denmark, for example, where the UK is both a good friend and its fourth trading partner. But Denmark does more than six times more business with the rest of the EU than with the UK. Economic interest meant preserving the EU market, not accommodating the UK. It is the same for the other members. The EU always comes first for everyone.

As Menon also notes, sardonically: “It was curious that a group of ideological purists expected their interlocutors to be ideologically flexible and pragmatic. It is clear that so far Brexit has strengthened the EU, not weakened it. Menon notes that “Even Marine Le Pen quickly realized that Brexit would do nothing to increase public support for Frexit”. Thus, EU members fought to defend their interests, just as British politicians should have expected.

Graph showing the unbalanced dependence of the UK and the EU on their respective markets

Johnson’s “cake-making” was silly bravado, as was the advice of David Frost, his chief negotiator, that the EU should “get rid of any remaining ill will towards us for our departure, and instead build a relationship. friendship between sovereign equals ”. Of course, it would be easier to achieve this if Johnson hadn’t lied about the implications of his Northern Ireland-rest of the UK trade deal and hadn’t even dared to attempt to do so. repudiate. The EU rightly considers him to be unreliable and untrustworthy.

As for “sovereign equality”, the UK and the EU can be formally sovereign as well. But they are far from equal. The UK economy is one-fifth that of the EU and its dependence on trade with the EU is much greater than the other way around. These are the realities of relative power. A realist like Victorian Prime Minister Palmerston would have understood this. Why can’t Frost?

Chart showing the UK economy has had five difficult years since the EU referendum

It is inevitable, especially given the UK government’s apparent desire for friction with the EU, that relations remain poisoned for the indefinite future. It is also inevitable that the UK will lose more than the EU.

What about the economic results? Brexit is of course not the only shock to hit the economy over the past five years. The other is the Covid-19. But it should be noted that between Q2 2016 and Q1 2021, the UK economy shrank by 4.3%. Italy’s performance was similar. But the eurozone economy grew 1.3 percent during this period. Brexit also inflicted a significant initial shock to trade volumes. A recovery has occurred since then, but UK trade will end up being smaller than it otherwise would have been. The effects of this situation will accumulate over time and result in worse economic performance than not.

This raises a question: what will “take back control” mean?

The chart showing that Brexit in January 2021 was a brutal shock to UK trade, but there has been some recovery

There is no doubt that Brexit has lifted the constraints on the government. British prime ministers with a large majority could still do most of what they wanted, as long as they retained parliamentary support. Now the government doesn’t have to worry about EU rules either. Thus, the government (for which 44% of the electorate voted) can act even more freely than before. This form of collective control can mean a lot to many. However, in the many areas where international cooperation is needed, Brexit has not increased control over choices. The UK has yet to convince other countries. But now it lacks a platform inside the EU to do so.

What about the British? Have they taken back control of their lives? At the very least, the companies that trade with the EU and the people who want to work and study there have lost a lot of control, and have not taken it back.

Chart showing immigration from the EU has declined but has soared elsewhere

We can’t know what posterity will think. But to me today, Brexit promises largely seem like a wisp. This will not increase control, but will reduce it where it mattered most to individuals and even to the general public. Clever demagogues turned public discontent into hostility towards the EU, which was mostly innocent of what people hated except on migration. UK statistics are very poor on this: the number of EU citizens seeking ‘established status’ 5.3 million by March 2021, much more than expected. But strikingly, migrant flows from the rest of the world have now jumped, while those from the EU have declined.

In the longer term, Brexit is likely to hurt the UK, or even divide it, while strengthening EU solidarity. If so, it will surely be a Pyrrhic victory.

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