It was a sad day for Europe on January 31. For the first time in its history, one of its 28 Member States voluntarily left the European Union and slammed the shut door, leaving it highly unlikely that it will re-open for at least a decade.
In my view, irresponsible British politicians, notably then-Prime Minister David Cameron, put their own political survival before the interests of their country. The outcome of the 2016 Brexit Referendum did not represent the “will of the British people” as so many Brexit supporters like to claim.
The final vote tallies revealed a razor-thin triumph for Brexit, a policy that was based on lies spread by British tabloid papers and the kind of fake new that my former colleague in Brussels, one Boris Johnson, simply made up. But more crucially, the support for Brexit – which has now reversed according to opinion polls – was the result of manipulations by the sinister political consulting firm, Cambridge Analytica, and disinformation spread by the Russian media and Kremlin-paid trolls.
Many British voters thought that their country would be better off outside the EU. No-one seemed able to explain why this might be the case, and the markets certainly disagreed. The United Kingdom was the second-largest economy in the European Union and remains a major geopolitical power broker, with one of the world’s top militaries and a much-vaunted intelligence service that is widely respected as one of the finest on the planet.
The EU will certainly be weaker and less politically balanced without the UK, but I believe that, in the end, the UK will be the biggest loser after Brexit. More than 40% of British exports go to the EU, and with only 11 months left to negotiate a favourable trade agreement, British companies will inevitably face more hurdles in doing business with their former European trade partners.
It hardly helps them that now the Britain has formally stepped out of the European Union and committed to a quick trade agreement, London has little leverage left. Johnson has, in the last few days, explained that he is aiming for a loose agreement that would be modelled on the agreement that Brussels has with Australia.
Foreign investment in the UK will also certainly go down. And why should a Japanese car-company invest in a plant in the United Kingdom when it is not at all clear under which conditions these cars will be exported to the main market – the European Union? The EU’s trade partners have no reason to roll over their agreements to include a now self-excluded and voluntarily isolated UK.
Along with some others who have been dismayed by this long, painful, and slow political car-crash, I do recognise one positive factor – with the UK’s withdrawal, the European Union has lost a country which always tried to halt or veto further European integration. London had no interest in joining the common currency, the Schengen Zone, or anything else that moved in the direction of a future federated Europe.
The European Union is now free to shape its future without paying constant attention to the naysayers in London. After spending nearly four years dedicated to dealing with the cumbersome divorce process with the UK, Brussels lost precious time that could have been used to start implementing a necessary reform process.
As the President of the Association of European Journalists, I want to express my friendship and respect for our friends in the British section. Brexit will, in no way, hinder our future cooperation or in our common struggle for media freedom.