Brexit undermines UK’s ability to advance democracy


One of the least discussed aspects of Brexit is the immense damage it will do to Britain’s standing as a global foreign policy player, notes Denis MacShane, a former minister at the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office and UK delegate to the Council of Europe and NATO Parliamentary Assemblies.

“Brexit is the biggest influence-reducing move ever seen in Britain’s history of international relations,” he writes for Carnegie Europe. “It is astonishing that the UK foreign policy establishment has not expressed concern. The overwhelming focus in the Brexit debate on trade and immigration has sidelined the coming loss of British influence, which is without precedent in British history.”

Brexit will also undermine Britain’s ability to advance democracy within and beyond the EU, adds MacShane, whose new book Brexit, No Exit. Why (in the End) Britain Won’t Leave Europeis published this month by IB Tauris.

“For centuries, Britain expended blood and treasure to ensure that Europe was open for British commerce; that no dominant continental power, ideology, or faith took over; and that the values of liberalism, democracy, and the rule of law spread across the continent,” he notes. But no more.

Britain appears to face a choice between three different types of humiliation, notes FT analyst Gideon Rachman:

  • The first humiliating outcome is that Britain becomes so desperate for a trade deal that it is forced to accept the EU’s terms, more or less in their entirety. …
  • An alternative humiliating outcome would involve Britain refusing to make an agreement on these terms and crashing out of the EU without a deal in March 2019. …
  • The third humiliating outcome involves Britain realising that there is no good Brexit on offer and abandoning the whole idea and returning meekly to the EU fold. Even to secure agreement to this outcome from the EU27, Britain might have to give up its cherished budget rebate.

But there is an argument that a dose of national humiliation can be good for a country, Rachman adds:

The writer Ian Buruma argued recently that British and American politics have become vulnerable to nationalist self-harm because, after the second world war, “generation after generation grew up with...the feeling of being special. All of the other big nations in Europe experienced occupation, defeat, humiliation or the collapse of democracy during the 20th century. By contrast, Britain takes a frank and understandable pride in never succumbing, in its modern history, to political extremism or military defeat.


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