Brexit would not only be bad for Britain, it would be bad for Europe. Europe needs the liberal, global outlook that is so deeply ingrained in the British political culture.
The debate about a British exit from the EU – Brexit – has been dominated by economic considerations: whether EU membership rather helps or hurts the British economy. But geostrategic aspects are at least as important; in the 20th century, the country twice had to fight costly wars to help restore order on the European continent. Brexit would imply a number of wide-ranging geopolitical choices: to lose the ability to co-shape developments in Europe; to go it alone on the international stage instead of using the EU to multiply British weight; to put at risk the close relationship with the US. [...]
Today, Britain is reviewing its grand strategy again. Its uneasiness with the EU has led it to flirt with leaving the union. To do so, however, would be a great mistake. Unlike in previous centuries, Britain has no good other options. It cannot go it alone globally, as the UK is too weak to compete with the US or China and can be pushed around by both. In addition, Brexit might weaken the system of EU governance and make continental Europe less stable. Britain’s global and European converge today: both are best pursued by redoubling British engagement in the EU.
Britain’s global role depends on its EU membership. For the US, the UK is an important partner in Nato, but the centre of European foreign policy-making today is the monthly EU foreign ministers’ meetings in Brussels plus the EU summits of heads of government. A US that is reconsidering its global engagement supports a stronger EU foreign policy, as it needs a strong European partner.
The Brexit debate has weakened London’s weight in Europe and this affects the British relation with Washington. Today, Paris is more important for Washington with regards to southern Europe, and Berlin with regards to eastern Europe and Russia. For a pragmatic, unsentimental US, Britain is relevant only to the degree it can help building coalitions inside the EU. Going it alone without the US and European partners puts the UK in a weak spot, too weak to shape relationships with great powers. Instead of being a rule-maker, Britain would become a rule-taker. Increasing its weight on the global scale is one of the strategic opportunities EU membership provides for Britain. The other is the ability to co-shape the system of governance that is dominating Europe. [...]
For EU countries, membership of the EU remains the best bet to address the challenges of globalisation – only Britain seriously considers leaving. The EU provides economic benefits, underpins political stability and keeps countries open and people open-minded. In the increasing struggle between populists, who pretend countries can keep economic benefits from globalisation while closing borders, and cosmopolitans who support globalisation as a broader social and cultural concept, the EU clearly is on the side of the latter. The UK has a strategic choice to make: between isolation and integration, between regaining a position inside the EU from which it can co-shape geopolitics – or becoming an object of the geopolitics of others.
Brexit would not only be bad for Britain, it would be bad for Europe. Europe needs the liberal, global outlook that is so deeply ingrained in the British political culture. At a time when the market economy is increasingly threatened by protectionism and state capitalism, when the post-world war liberal order is under stress, there is need for a strong Britain in a strong Europe. With a dedicated, pro-European Britain, the EU could gain strength internally through further liberalisation of the single market and externally through a joint foreign policy that would make the EU a true pillar of liberal order in a more chaotic and dangerous world.
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