Can, or should one sacrifice anything for the sake of unity? This is probably one of the most important hidden questions of Brexit.
The British vote regarding the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union is a very significant event. This is a symbol of not only European, but of universal issues, and possibly, even a real transfer to a new phase in the world’s existence.
In this new phase, many values will likely have to be reconsidered. For example, the value of Western European unity, which currently exists as the EU. British subjects have decided that the value of this unity is not very great.
For Britain itself this means not only the resignation of government, the head of which, Cameron, as strange as it may be, did a lot to make the referendum happen. This is a sign, to both Northern Ireland and Scotland, the population of which voted to join the EU, to return to the issue of their own independence and self-determination.
The immediate economic losses may not be so great, but the necessity of building new strategic economic plans is obvious.
No less important is the visible rise of contradictions between various social strata, and, correspondingly, political forces. There is no doubt that Britain is awaiting a political mess. One can confidently expect not only fierce political battles between Labour and Conservatives, but also growing influences of relatively insignificant forces, such as Farage’s UK Independence Party. After all, the latter’s views prevailed.
The vote, as many observers believe, carried a largely emotional character. But this emotion is a sign of engagement (72% took part in the referendum), while engagement points to a search for identity among a significant part of the Kingdom’s subjects. They clearly put their British identity considerably above the European one.
The process of forming a Conservative government will not be simple because the Conservatives themselves were not united on the issue of Brexit. How the Conservative Party will survive the referendum’s results is also a guessing game. Of course, early elections are unlikely, but who knows?
For the European Union, the consequences are no less significant. First of all, this is a challenge to the very principles of the EU’s existence. For many, the British vote will be a contagious example, on different levels at that. Marie Le Pen, France’s enfant terrible, already declared the necessity of a similar referendum in France. Of course, this is not the opinion of the majority of France’s elite, but Le Pen is supported by many citizens.
Most likely, the British referendum will influence the processes in European regions seeking self-determination, Catalonia, for example. In any case, the results of upcoming Spanish elections promise to be interesting: right after the Brexit, Spain began talking about Gibraltar and a condominium over it with Britain.
At the same time, Britain’s exit can, as strange as it may seem, lead to a rally behind the EU, to its consolidation. Britain, after all, played an ambiguous role in the EU, and constantly demanded some special privileges, complaining about Brussels and its irrational policies.
Now the irritant is gone, and continental Western Europe has a reason to look at what has happened in a new light.
The thing is, the EU’s existence owes a lot to the Soviet Union and its confrontation with the US. The idea of creating a new, significant party in international politics and economics, the idea of unity and development of a new center of the world, the European Union, appeared very alluring. Perhaps, the EU’s allure has not gone anywhere, the foundations of the Maastricht process are very deep, but additional motives, such as competition with the USSR and the fear of its existence are gone. This is the source of complicated processes within the EU itself, its obvious lack of balance, the difficulty of governing it, contradictions between its members. I must qualify this, to note that contradictions are a completely natural thing. It is impossible to create such a colossal organization without considerable costs. But when external pressure eased, some of the weaker links began to fall out. Britain, for example.
In addition, there are now new centers of international development, China and India, and new forms of international cooperation, such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and in the future, perhaps a Transatlantic one. Other unions are also on approach, or are at least being actively discussed.
There is no doubt that all of this will also take a toll on NATO. The Brexit itself does not influence NATO directly, but for all of the organization’s members, Britain’s exit from the EU is a significant sign and a reason to think about the degree of their cohesion and the readiness of countries to renounce anything for the case of unity. The point of NATO is “all for one and one for all.” And if some clear demonstration of a reduction of cohesion occurred, this cannot influence the well-being of the military organization, for which, the extreme forms of activity are the preparedness of many people to die for this very unity.
For the world as a whole, the consequences are not very clear. For the US, Brexit is, most likely, unpleasant. Britain is likely the most loyal ally of the US, and losing its influence inside the EU cannot help but to be disappointing. In addition, this, let me repeat, is a sign of the weakening of alliance bonds and the cohesion of the Western world in the face of challenges, including terrorist, or even military ones.
For all other major world players, including Russia, this is of course a challenge. A challenge, which should be considered, to grasp, exactly what trajectories the EU and UK will move along in the future. In some respects, Britain’s exit from the EU helps those who believe that the world needs not new, labyrinthine partnerships and new forms of dividing the world, but the opposite, a new globalization, a new overcoming of the world’s fragmentation. The collapse of the USSR initially clearly led to illusions of a new, good and democratic, globalized world, and later, especially in the past few years, to a new division and a new disintegration and fragmentation.
If, as Britain’s example shows, we are going through a renaissance of nation-states, if we see that they are growing in numbers, then perhaps there are grounds for new forms of global governance? This is perhaps somewhat of an exaggeration, but such conversations are occurring.
When it comes to Russia, there can be a lot of speculation on whether Britain’s exit from the EU will assist in the issue of lifting sanctions and the development of EU-Russia relations as a whole.
There are many discussions regarding sanctions as it is, and it’s doubtful that the future absence of the UK within the EU is a key factor. Bur there is one pretty interesting question. This is the question of developing relations between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union. So far, the process moved along sluggishly, though it did actually move along. It is possible that the EU, which after Britian’s exit may not think about its own identity and role, will be able to modify its approach to relations with the EEU.
Overall, the consequences of the Brexit will be, most likely, significant. This is a sign of a changing world, a changing of its governance and structures. Everything customary changes at some point. Sooner or later. Today, changes are occurring before our very eyes. We need to only unriddle what is going on.
Admittedly, we may be exaggerating everything. The world did not collapse. Many unions were created and disintegrated, a lot has changed. Humanity lives on and develops. The most accurate prediction in the world is that tomorrow everything will be about the same as today.
Perhaps, everything is not that simple. We should remember the prophet Daniel, who was able to read the writing is on the wall.
Andrey Bystritskiy is Chairman of the Board of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, Professor, Dean of the Faculty of Communications, Media and Design at the National Research University – Higher School of Economics, member of the Union of Writers.