Brexiteers want the British public to believe that stronger relations with the rest of the world can make up for the loss of Europe. But this “either/or” approach is artificial.
All countries are part of a single world. Future trade partners of the UK are currently either EU members or the EU’s trade partners. Furthermore, the rule of law is an indivisible principle. Inside the EU, countries are bound by rules, above all the four freedoms, especially the free movement of people, enforced by the European court of justice. The UK benefited from the court’s decisions, for example when the EU judges authorised the clearing of euro derivatives to stay in London.
At the international level, rules are not going to become less important for the UK: World Trade Organisation dispute settlement panels contribute to fair trading conditions, and the UK is a signatory of the UN charter, and a permanent member of the UN security council, having accepted the jurisdiction of the international court of justice. I have no doubt the UK will fully respect its commitments concerning international law.
What would happen were the UK to decide not to respect all the commitments related to the EU treaties it has signed and democratically ratified, such as its current budget commitments? It would not only make the withdrawal negotiations, but also future relations with EU countries, tougher. In addition, the UK would inflict reputational damage upon itself: who wants to sign a trade agreement with a country that has just renounced its previous agreements, in an unexpected way?
In Britain people do not realise to what extent the preference for a “hard Brexit” puzzles the UK’s partners. The pragmatic champion of the single market, pushing for free trade and enlargement to eastern and central European countries with unlimited intra-EU migration, has made a U-turn. Theresa May is now reversing all previous British priorities. This gives the impression that an abstract notion of British national sovereignty trumps anything else.
These sudden changes are not only creating mistrust in the economic fields. They could even have an impact on defence and much-needed sharing of intelligence information to fight against terrorism. In the event of “no deal” or an ugly divorce, the negative impact would be considerable, for both the UK and the EU.
It is time to return to less emotional positions and to reflect on long-term interests. Naturally the UK has the sovereign right to leave the EU. However it cannot attempt to change the EU through its departure. Were it to do so, the UK would end up hurting itself.