Victory for populism: Brexiteers win

Published 15.12.2019 21:52
Updated 20.12.2019 02:24

Snap elections in the U.K. handed a huge victory to Boris Johnson's Conservative Party. The Labour Party, under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, on the other hand, saw one of its worst performances since World War II. This will very likely cost Corbyn his chair. However, the incertitude about Brexit has largely disappeared; the U.K. will now definitely be leaving the EU, probably not by the end of this month, but the divorce will be consummated within the next few months.

As I have had singled out in my previous article, it is extremely difficult to make one’s voice heard in the current tumult in the U.K. and disclose the dangers of Brexit. The large wave of nationalistic (and often jingoist) feelings has overcome everything. Clearly, the prospect of a second referendum had an adverse effect on British voters, who reflected their views unequivocally this time.

So off goes the U.K. from the EU. But how the separation process will unravel is another story altogether. But everyone within the 27-member EU has had enough of this tergiversating transitional period, languishing for more than three years now. Many will hope that it will be finally possible for both parties to soon come to a common understanding.

The decline in Labour votes has gone hand in hand with a historic success for the Scottish National Party (SNP), whose leader Nicola Sturgess will certainly bring another independence referendum to the agenda.

Pandora's box is now wide open and we will probably see the first wave of bad news soon. However, a full-blown political turmoil is unlikely because everyone in the U.K. is tired of polarization and the country needs a respite. But the only “alternative solution” for Boris Johnson et al could be deeper integration with the U.S. and the World Trade Organization. In fact, Donald Trump has tweeted, as usual, a glorious message of congratulations to “BoJo,” underlining that a trade agreement between the U.S. and the U.K. will bring fantastic results.

The reality might be slightly different. Nobody in their right mind can have confidence in President Trump’s tweets. It is great one day and totally contradicting the next. What the Trump administration has done so far has involved more than avoiding new trade liberalization agreements, in the form of the dismantling of existing liberal structures or projects, like the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP).

As yet, the U.S. administration under Trump has taken blunt steps toward isolationism, threatening other countries, like China and France, with tariffs. So why the U.K. would be treated otherwise is a key question and we will probably see the answers in a few months.

The other strong “alternative” for the Brexiteers was the WTO system and its membership. It is worth remembering that Donald Trump has a very dismissive attitude to how WTO functions. He has deliberately torpedoed the Appellate Body membership, by not renewing the nominations. In doing so, he has created a first in WTO history, where conflict resolution and arbitration systems can come to a halt due to the absence of nominated members. The European Parliament recently put forward a resolution denouncing this attitude of the U.S. administration. There goes the “sound WTO membership system,” pontificated by the Brexiteers.

Anyhow, the Brexit page is being turned and it might unclench new dynamics within the EU. More and more, the main member states come together to discuss problems in the “petit comite.” More and more, Germany and France have launched bilateral initiatives. More and more, the Eurozone is becoming a privileged area for its members. This definitely does not mean that the EU is being torn apart, as the Brexiteers often claim, but we are probably heading toward a multi-speed Europe, which will be imposed on members and non-members alike.

There are two conclusions to draw from the British elections. The first is that the fight against populism and euroskepticism requires a staunch, solid and unequivocal pro-European stance. This can go hand-in-hand with a deep commitment to the welfare state, however trying to distance itself from EU integration, because it is seen as an anti-socialist entity that does not work.

Former French Prime Minister Laurent Fabius has experienced it during the Constitutional Treaty referendum back in 2005. The “No” vote should have opened, according to his views, the way to a more “social” treaty. We are still waiting for it. Corbyn has committed the same error when he refused to really endorse the “remain” vote in 2016, after that it was too late.

The second conclusion is regret; the Labour program was probably the most comprehensive welfare program since Aneurin Bevan. But it will evaporate with Corbyn and we will never know the implications of implementing such a program within the EU. This is unfortunate.

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