It is not often that we knowingly witness history in the making before our own eyes, but today we’ve had one of those moments.
The UK election results have left no room for doubt: in the space of six weeks, the country will leave the EU. Regardless of whether we feel sad, jubilant, angry, worried, or indifferent, one thing is certain – no one knows for sure how this will play out.
The EU, as well as London, is sailing into uncharted waters. Losing a member, after building European unity and solidarity for more than 60 years, ain’t easy. Behind all the brave words on the European side, there is unspoken fear.
What if the UK leaves unscathed and then negotiates a good deal with the EU? Johnson will shout from the rooftops about having taken back control and ending up even better off than before. Could it possibly encourage some more skeptical EU countries to follow London’s lead?
On the other hand, to reach a good deal would mean agreeing to many EU standards and requirements. So what exactly will the UK gain, if it ends up following all the standards and principles, without being able to shape them? That is something Johnson may have to address in the next election campaign.
But before any of that happens, London and Brussels will have to negotiate a comprehensive trade deal, and will have to accomplish that in under 11 months, unless Johnson agrees to forego his pledge and ask for an extension.
And then, he will have to weather the Scottish storm, while keeping his fingers crossed that nothing goes wrong in Northern Ireland. Nicola Sturgeon is now more or less forced to push for a second Scottish independence referendum, which Johnson will have to deny if he wants to survive.
And in the EU, some will be thinking ‘good riddance’, while others will say ‘it will never be the same again without the Brits’. For even with all their posturing, rebates, exceptions, waywardness and lack of real European commitment, they were an integral part of the EU and a whimsy but useful counterweight to France and Germany.
In the post-Brexit world, will the UK be friend or foe? Will they side with Trump against the EU? Or will they act as an honest broker and help restore multilateralism?
Before this Commission’s mandate ends, we’ll have most of the answers.
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Look out for…
The European Parliament’s last Strasbourg plenary of the year.
Views are the author’s