What impact would Brexit have on the International Influence that the UK and the EU currently have?
On the 23rd of June, the British people will vote in a referendum deciding to either remain or leave the European Union. In the event that the British public vote to leave the EU (Brexit), changes will be inevitable, which may impact the international influence the UK and the EU will have.
Language plays a fundamental role in influencing beyond one’s borders. The English language is the most commonly used language of EU institutions and in the event of Brexit it is likely that this will stay the case as English is so widely spoken and used internationally. Changing it to any other language would affect the influence the EU has on its global reach and external communication.
5% of all staff from EU institutions are British Nationals, who are regarded as offering a significant contribution especially to the European External Action Service. Brexit may result in loss of qualified talents for the EU institutions.
The UK and France have traditionally taken leadership in major EU negotiations and engagements with the international community, as seen with the Iranian nuclear deal and the war on terrorism. Brexit may affect the influence the EU has in major international events, given that at present there are underlying doubts and concerns over the coherence and efficiency of the European Common Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.
The UK’s current global influence can be summarised in five factors: its special relationship with the US, its soft power, its permanent membership of the Security Council, its membership of the EU and NATO and economic/military/population capabilities.
For the special relationship with the US, it is safe to assume that it will be maintained in the event of Brexit. The Snowdon revelation confirmed that the UK/US institutional coordination is deeply rooted and based on trust, synergy and cooperation that is not matched with their relationship with any other country. This is unlikely to change although the US may need to start considering alternative options of countries that may play the role of the gateway to Europe.
If the UK remains united after Brexit, there probably will not be a major impact on its soft power, its seat of the security council and its military capabilities. With Brexit, the UK will lose the EU umbrella, effecting the significant leverage it has on the international scene. The UK may lose France and Germany as a major international partners in coordinating international policies.
All the opinions expressed are those of the author in this article and do not represent those of The Global Diplomatic Forum. The Diplomatic Digest is an independent and neutral page that is aimed at generating debate around key international topics.
Can the UK and EU stay united in the event of Brexit?
The recent referendum in the Netherlands which opposed the free trade agreement with Ukraine actually illustrates the rise of Euroscepticism within the EU countries and the division between Western and Eastern Europe. An important factor in the rise of Euroscepticism in the UK, regardless of its legitimacy, is due to migration from Eastern Europe. The UK has a significant number of communities from France, Italy, Spain and Germany and they rarely get mentioned in the EU membership debate. In the same way Britain has communities residing in these countries too. This will likely continue in the case of Brexit as both parties do not consider any inconvenience in this arrangement.
The EU is struggling with the mildly Eurosceptic Government of Poland and the radical Government of Hungary. Brexit in parallel with increased friction between these
Governments and the Governments of Western Europe (mainly France and Germany), or EU institutions, and the rise of Euroscepticism due to free movement of workers would widen the division between the two parts of Europe.
Added to that, the relationship with Russia remains a question of differences amongst different countries within the EU as to the cost of containing Russia through sanctions increases. Given that there is some concern in France, Germany and Italy regarding the trade cost of containing Russia and many within these countries even argue that Russia presents no threat to their countries and they have to bear these costs for their eastern neighbours. Moreover, the two sides of Europe have different views on the question of the refugees. Given all that, Brexit can be a catalyst bringing this division to the agenda of countries from different parts of Europe. Options in the opposite directions of the greater ever union will be considered more seriously by different countries. The future of the EU unity will be faced with serious continuous challenges in the event of Brexit.
For the UK, the main question of unity involves Scotland. Some argue that as Scotland is a pro-EU country it would eventually leave the UK through a referendum in the event of Brexit. It is important to note that the main driver for seeking the independence vote was that laws are made in Westminster instead of Holyrood. Furthermore, there is a possibility that Brexit can put the Northern Ireland political progress at risk with their deputy Prime Minister stating that his party will call for unification with the Republic of Ireland in the event of Brexit.
The above two scenarios bring with them a high risk that would ultimately affect the International influence the UK has.
There are numerous questions on whether the EU and the UK will maintain their status as united and steady influential players in the international scene in the case of Brexit.
The internal developments within both the UK and the EU will have significant impact on their international influence. An additional scenario is that the British public votes for Brexit and the UK renegotiates its membership with the EU and calls for a second referendum. This scenario will more likely help the UK maintain its international status and may prevent division within the EU. What is clear is that Brexit most definitely brings with it an uncertain path for the UK and the EU.