Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves…
I enjoy singing (poetic licence here I think) this patriotic anthem with the rest of my countrymen and women. To me it also seems to encapsulate the buchennering free trading utopia that many Brexiteers believe is just over the horizon once we have left the European Union (EU). This may well be the case but I suspect the outcome of the negotiations will be more like the typical muddle through of British policy over the generations – give a bit here and trade a bit there. After all even the most ardent Brexiteer can’t argue with geography – we are only 22 miles off of the continent of Europe and historically we have always had huge trade links with Europe. So the one prediction I can make is that by the end of the Brexit process there will be gnashing of teeth from many Brexiteers about the deal we have somehow come up with. Gone will be their vision of purity to be replaced with….who knows?
Of course this comforting assumption is predicated on one assumption – there is a EU to make a deal with. As the days become weeks of 2017 that assumption is starting to look just a little less certain. As Katya Adler’s thought provoking documentary illustrates the EU may well be starting crumble before our eyes. No EU what nonsense many would say. They would rightly point to all the strengths of the Union whilst pointing out the weaknesses of the British position. I am old enough to remember the fall of the Berlin Wall and the Soviet Union. If I were to tell myself in 1988 that within four years the USSR would have collapsed I would have laughed at the thought. Will a future me have to have the same conversation over the European Union? I have no idea but the warning signs are there and they can be summed up in one word EURO.
The Euro was a political exercise to try and move the countries of the then EU closer together. I was in France on the day that the currency went live and there seemed to be a view that this was the future, that one day even the reluctant British would join to make the Euro a currency to rival the all mighty Dollar – that seems such a fairy tale now. I am no economist but my understanding is that to make any currency work you have to have confidence in the institutions that issue the notes etc. They must be able to take swift action to protect the currency – in short there needs to be politically sound foundation at the heart of any great currency. In Britain we have the Bank of England (sorry Scotland but that is the truth) and the British Government which, like the Lannisters, always pays its debts. In fact one of the driving forces behind the act of union between England and Scotland was the problems that Scotland got themselves into over debt because of an ill advised adventure. (Again sorry Scotland for bringing that up). What this means is that the institutions of Britain can act swiftly to support the Pound when it is needed. The swiftness of action has been totally lacking with the Euro and so it has caused greater and greater problems for many of the countries that use the Euro. This in turn has built up resentment against the countries, well actually the one country, which seems to have benefited most from the introduction of the Euro – Germany. Historically this is not a good sign. With mass unemployment, collapsing social support systems and the calls for the national rather than EU solutions, which are seen by many as a means for Germany to benefit once again, it is no wonder that the EU is starting to wobble. This is before you start to add in the heady mix of the mass migration/refugee crises engulfing southern Europe – something may well soon start to give and if that happens it ain’t gonna go slowly but very quickly indeed.
Of course this is a worst case scenario and the EU in the past has been capable of papering over the cracks but what if the cracks are just too big? What then for Europe? What then for the Brexit negotiations with an EU distracted and slowly or quickly collapsing? I have no idea and just hope that this doesn’t happen because the Europe that will reappear may well have a very familiar look to it to anyone from Medieval Europe. We may well see southern europe collapse into city states and principalities; Spain would once again divide whilst northern Europe will look like a new hanseatic league with Britain being a key member, whilst always being somewhat detached from the new German state in the heart of all this. Eastern europe may form some of loose federation between themselves in a vain attempt try to balance the heavy weight demands from both their east and west borders. And Russia? Well you might think that they would welcome the collapse of the EU but they would have to face up to their true nightmare a re-energised nationalistic Germany. Where France would fit into this model is very unclear as they are both a Northern and Southern european country.
Just over 6 months ago it could be put down to the scribblings of someone who has read one too many fantasy comic book and could rightly point out that this is alarmist nonsense and that is very true.. Now it cannot be dismissed so easily although I’m still confident that it is nonsense but it cannot be dismissed anymore and so needs to be thought about when the Brexit negotiations are being conducted.
I do hope I am wrong.