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OPINION | Brexit debate hinges on Britain's grand vision for its role in the world


21 June 2016 | By Zhu Xinxian | China Daily

  • Brexit Debate

    To Brexit advocates, the EU is stuck in its own troubles without momentum for change and Britain may provide that momentum by leaving it. [BBC]

W

ith the Brexit referendum around the corner, supporters on both sides are accelerating their campaigns for or against the motion, leading to a heated debate that is sweeping across not only the British Isles but pretty much the whole Western world. In terms of foreign policy making, the debate can be boiled down to one question: is the EU still relevant to a Britain that aspires to assert itself more on the world political arena, tired of being ranked as a second class power? To put it another way, in the context of globalization in the present day, is the EU facilitating or obstructing Britain's efforts to obtain future world leadership?

Top on the list of benefits for Britain to stay is support that the organization may provide for Britain. According to advocates on this side, Britain and other major members like France and Germany have more in common than differences which renders the EU as a launching pad for Britain's larger role in world affairs. The EU's performance in solving the Iranian nuclear problem and imposing sanctions on Russia has provided precedents to prove this. To drop out of the EU is to retreat from the front stage of world politics and to isolate itself on purpose. Britain should not overestimate the influence it is capable of exerting worldwide, which will be considerably reduced if it leaves the EU.

Apart from the support it can depend on in participating in world affairs, Britain within the EU has an upper hand in navigating the organization on a course that will suit its needs. By wielding veto power, Britain can forestall policies it doesn’t want since unanimous votes are required for the EU to pass any act or to take any action as a whole. As a result, Britain has nothing to fear in staying in the EU.

As for the issue of sovereignty, which constitutes the main argument on the Brexit side, if Britain is capable of changing the EU by pushing forward the EU reform that will lead to an institution that is more democratic and responsive, sharing sovereignty is not too bad an idea in an increasingly globalized world. Rather, it is necessary in the face of challenges on a global scale. It will be unwise for Britain to give up the stakes it has in hand now and to slide into becoming an isolated nation going nowhere.

On the other side of the debate, although they are campaigning against almost everything their opponents stand for, the advocates for Britain to leave the EU are actually arguing within the same context of globalization. The difference is that for Brexit advocates, the EU is an obsolete organization, a product of the Cold War in the West camp against the East, obstructing instead of facilitating Britain nowadays in its efforts to rise to become a first class world power. Outside the EU, free from the confining rules and binding agreements with other EU members, Britain can perform with increased flexibility, reaching out to other possible partners. Still an active member of the Security Council, the IMF, the World Bank, the G20, and the NATO, a Britain without the EU is far from being isolated. Rather, it can construct other platforms for international cooperation of its own, on which it will play a leading role. A revived Commonwealth coalition is one of the possibilities.

In Brexit advocates' opinion, Britain's relationship with major European countries won’t be undermined by its leaving the EU. History has proved that the EU's performance during the three waves of globalization is quite lame. The first wave of globalization was that of commodities, which was crystallized in the role played by the WTO while the EU did nothing more than passing on the WTO policies to its members.

The second wave of globalization was that of capital and the financial crisis in 2008 and proved that staying in the EU has attenuated rather than strengthened Britain's ability to confront the risk.

We are now facing the third wave of globalization, that is, the global migration of people. The recent immigration crisis that has almost toppled the European continent and the EU's ineffectiveness in taking actions makes it look more like a cause of problems than a solution to them.

To Brexit advocates, the EU is stuck in its own troubles without momentum for change and Britain may provide that momentum by leaving it.

All in all, whether to leave or to stay, Britain definitely bears a grand vision for its future role in world politics. Vision alone, however, is not enough. Britain also needs to take action and jump at the chances presented to it. Whether that's a revived Commonwealth or more engagement in Africa and Asia Pacific, Britain should be ready to drop the condescending attitude inherited from its past glory, going beyond the Eurocentric mindset so as to follow the trend of a multi-cultural world as a result of globalization. Now is the high time for British pragmatism.

The author is assistant researcher at the Center for British Studies, Shanghai International Studies University (SISU).

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SISU News Center, Office of Communications and Public Affairs

Tel : +86 (21) 3537 2378

Email : news@shisu.edu.cn

Address :550 Dalian Road (W), Shanghai 200083, China

Further Reading