UK Politics

Is the EU shooting itself in the foot with Brexit negotiations?

Olivia Rohll

Just over five months on from the UK’s vote to leave the European Union on the 23rd of June 2016, there seems to have been almost no progress on what a post-EU Britain will look like. This is partly because of domestic disagreement - the Economist recently reported an almost perfect 50:50 split of opinion over the key free trade/free movement trade-off in the Brexit negotiations - but also because of the reactions of EU leaders nervous of right wing populism in their own backyards. The situation appears at times to have reached a total stalemate which only the goodwill of the negotiators can dissipate. Unfortunately for Theresa May the inner insecurity about the EU aroused across the bloc by Brexit has made goodwill hard to come by because an easy exit for the UK would encourage others to follow suit. 


However the resistance by French President François Hollande and, more recently Germanfinance minister Wolfgang Schäuble is unlikely to achieve the neutralisation of anti-EU sentiment they seek. Even among ‘Remain’ voters in the UK, the hostility sensed behind statements that the UK could face EU budget commitments up to 2030 and the like, have stirred up the feeling that Brussels has ambitions that override the sovereignty of EU member states. Britain has become a hazard to ‘The Project’ and is being punished for it - not a sight that is likely to appease nationalists. What is more, seeing leaders scrabbling to maintain their positions at the expense of their allies will do nothing to dispel feeling that the world is being run by a small group of elites uninterested in the concerns of the ‘everyday man’. Elitism even seems to be being felt at the state level, with Italy threatening to veto the EU budget due to what they see as a lack of support from EU countries with handling asylum seekers and immigrants. This is no doubt partly a political move by prime-minister Matteo Renzi, who is currently facing a referendum which, like the Brexit vote, is becoming as much about anti-establishment feeling as the constitutional reform it proposes. However the almost childish move to veto the budget also reflects the power imbalance between members which EU leaders like Renzi are finally pushing back against. The upshot is that whatever strategy European governments employ to handle Brexit they are eventually going to have to face internal unease about the EU face on, both at a domestic and national level. An easy Brexit may well encourage further departures, but throwing up barriers simply demonstrates the qualities of the European Union its people are coming to resent. 


The possibility of closer ties between the UK and US since the election of Donald Trump will do nothing to lower the tension. A British-American trade deal, although far from certain, would substantially strengthen the UK in the face of a weakened post-Brexit economy. Trump’s protectionism could well lead to complete abandonment of the work done towards a US-EU free trade deal, and his open enthusiasm for Brexit only adds insult to injury. While the scrapping of what has now been several years of complex negotiations would be an understandable blow for Brussels, failure must not be pinned on Trump or Brexit. At the end of August 2016 European politicians such as French Trade Minister Matthias Fekl began calling for the end of EU-US negotiations because of unmeetable demands from the Americans. In light of the possibility that the proposed deal was never going to come into fruition it is just worth wondering whether Angela Merkel’s calls on Trump not to give up on the deal would be as forthcoming if it weren’t for the remote possibility that the UK might get there first. 


The worrying possibility that the EU is being held together more because it is uncomfortable to leave, than because it is an attractive group to be in has not gone completely unnoticed however. As recently as 16th November, ex-French President Nicolas Sarkozy, writing in the Financial Times has stated ‘the rift between Europe and its citizens is wider than ever before.’ He recognises the legitimacy of the concerns of British people and extends the hope that they may choose to rejoin the Union once it has been reformed to better serve its members. The refreshing sentiment that rejoining the EU is an option for Britain also makes a welcome change from the finality Brexit is generally spoken about with. Before being defeated in the French primaries on 20th November, Sarkozy was seeking the Republicans’ (‘Les Républicains’) nomination for the 2017 French presidential election and was clearly hoping that EU reform might attract voters away from the far right better than Hollande’s defensiveness. This may just be another political manoeuvre by a member of ‘the elite’, but it might be the only way to save the EU and keep its people on board. If the UK must be punished for leaving, let it be done by making Europe better than it’s ever been before, not by making an example of it for those that might follow. 

Britain’s Overseas Territories - Anomalous Colonial Remnants or Self-determination Case Studies?

Matthew Collyer

The Second World War sounded the death knell for the European colonial empires. Vast and complex systems of political relations combining territorial control, condominiums, informal influence, and economic hegemony collapsed or were disbanded. Colonies demanded independence and countries such as Britain, France and the Netherlands could no longer maintain such structures. The fundamental principles of decolonisation were spelt out in the 1960 UN resolution on the topic (1514 (XV)). Notably, it stated that full power should be transferred to all ‘non-self-governing territories’ in line with the principle that the ongoing ‘subjection of peoples’ represented a denial of fundamental human rights. Furthermore, to deny independence to a colony on the grounds of an inability, or lack of capacity, to govern itself was not an acceptable reason to limit the process. By the mid-1970's few colonial possessions remained, although the formal end of the British Empire is often considered to be 1997 when Hong Kong was returned to China.

However, there still remain a number of territories which do not possess full self-government, but instead depend on Britain for their defence and foreign policies. At first glance the situation of such regions would seem to be in clear violation of the UN resolution discussed above. The UN committee of decolonisation lists them as ‘non-self-governing’ territories, and they clearly do not possess the full capacities of independent states. But the situation is somewhat more complex. Included in the text of the resolution was the right to self-determination, suggesting that all people have a right to “freely determine their political status”. Most of these are small islands in the Caribbean and Atlantic, whose populations opted not to follow the path to formal independence. 

The Falkland Islands are, perhaps, the most famous example. Argentina attempted to acquire the territory during a brief war in 1982, and declares in its constitution that the Malvinas (Falklands) are an integral part of their state. But the residents of the islands have repeatedly voted to continue the current arrangements, with 99.8% voting in favour in the 2013 sovereignty referendum. Similarly, Gibraltar voted overwhelmingly in 2002 against any sharing of sovereignty with Spain. The question therefore arises, should such dependencies be granted a political status which would allow independence but which does not reflect the will of people?

An interest example of an alternative approach to the question of self-government in overseas territories is that followed by France towards its own overseas possessions. The Fifth Republic has followed a policy of integrating such dependencies into the domestic political structure of France. Notably, territories like French Guiana in South America, with a population of 250,000 people and an area the size of Austria, are formally part of France, sending representatives to the National Assembly and to the European Parliament. British territories however, have considerably smaller populations and are extensively dispersed, and there is even greater complexity related to the territories that will not be discussed here, with the expulsion of the people of the Chagos Archipelago being a particularly difficult case.

To return to the title of this piece; perhaps, in true fence-sitting style, the answer to the question is ‘yes’, and ‘perhaps’. Britain’s overseas territories are remnants of a once vast empire that hold a status unlike that of almost any other group. They are, therefore, anomalies. On the other hand, many have expressed a desire to remain in their current situation, and have resisted attempts to change their political structures, and in this regard they are examples of peoples determining their own future. This correspondent believes that those who seek greater sovereignty must be supported, but the will of those who genuinely, and democratically, do not, must be respected.

Just How Special? Brexit leads to new questions on Anglo-American relations

Ed Bithell

Barack Obama is a man used to having his voice heard. 

And yet, when he came to the UK, often referred to as the US’s closest ally, to express his views on our biggest foreign policy decision in forty years (in fact, since the one we might be about to reverse), that didn’t quite happen. The irony, of course, is that it was the very Eurosceptics who tout our “special relationship” with the with the US as more important than Europe that dismissed his statement that a post-Brexit UK would be at the “back of the queue” in US trade priorities (a statement which clearly showed his pro-British sentiments with its concessions to the word “queue”, whatever Boris Johnson says). 

Suddenly, Obama was irrelevant, his views on Brexit an intrusion on our decision as a nation, despite his government’s policy being the cornerstone of Brexiteers’ trade plans. He was also accused of having bias against the UK informed by his Kenyan ancestry, an accusation that combined the unpleasant tactic of deemphasising his American nationality with a possible admission that the narrative of strong links and trust with former colonies being a somewhat rose-tinted view of the past.

But the cat was out of the bag. Despite what Boris thinks, the elected president of the United States doesn’t think that the UK is more of a priority than the EU - and even if he did, the least active Congress in the history of the United States would be unlikely to hammer out a brand new trade agreement in the foreseeable future for him anyway. On the other side of the political spectrum, Brexit has only been championed by Ted Cruz with even Donald Trump, whom even Boris Johnson found himself dismissing as talking xenophobic nonsense, declining to endorse the Leave camp. 

However, the main reason that nobody else’s views can really be examined is that Barack Obama is pretty much the only politician in the entire United States who has time to spend more than a sentence at a time discussing something other than the next presidential election. Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders have expressed support for the EU and Ted Cruz has attacked it, both because it stands for big government and because it was an opportunity to contradict Obama, but these are merely facets of their overall statements on US foreign policy - because that is, and will remain, their priority until November, by which time the EU question will be long decided. It is further symptomatic of Donald Trump’s general attitude to politics that he did not express a view - after all, it might find itself in conflict with a more important view that he wishes to hold later on. Presidential candidates aside, prominent members of the US Congress have uniformly declined to express any view. In fact, politicians in the US are remarkably unified in their opinion that it is the decision of the British people alone.

As a result, we see more from the response of the rest of the USA’s political heavyweights (and Ted Cruz) than we do from President Obama. It isn’t that the top flight of American politics are anti-British, or in cahoots with the Eurocrats. It’s simply that our relationship with the EU isn’t their priority. And when we notice that, perhaps we can re-evaluate our relationship with them.

Photo from the Executive Office of the President of the United States.