quinta-feira, 29 de dezembro de 2016

Post-Brexit, Britain will love Europe

Post-Brexit, Britain will love Europe
Without the poison of EU membership and with Donald Trump in the White House, Britain may feel European after all.

By TOM MCTAGUE 12/29/16, 5:31 AM CET Updated 12/29/16, 7:19 AM CET

LONDON — Brexit may finally have turned Britain pro-European.

Once divorce proceedings with Brussels are out of the way, say an increasing number of British MPs, European diplomats and foreign policy analysts, the U.K. can rebuild ties with its European neighbors — increasingly important political and ideological allies in the age of Trump — from more solid foundations. Unlike before, the new alliance will not be infected from the start.

Far from being the cure for Britain’s Euro-hostility, membership of the continent’s grandest project became the “poison” at the heart of the relationship, infecting everything it touched.

“The gradual divergence of our economic interests from the euro currency countries would have continued to have been the poison in our relationship with our partners in the EU,” said Crispin Blunt, the Conservative chairman of the House of Commons foreign affairs select committee.

“Once we’re outside the EU, this poison drains away and our relationship becomes a positive one with shared mutual interests — the success of the 27 as a union becomes a positive interest for the United Kingdom, alongside all our bilateral country-to-country relations.”

After 50 years of growing Euroskepticism, June’s referendum may prove the shock Britain needed to begin making the rational case for engaging with Europe, according to the senior figures in U.K. and European foreign policy circles.

The tectonic plates of global politics are juddering with such force, few in Westminster feel confident enough to predict where the U.K. will land after Brexit.
In the foreign office and across Whitehall, an uncomfortable reality is dawning — the U.K. is leaving Europe at a time when many in Westminster have never felt more European.

Britain’s essential Europeanism has only been further emphasized by the election of Donald Trump in the United States, whose emerging world view suddenly makes America feel a very long way from Britain — and from most European countries.

From free trade to gay rights, nuclear proliferation, Russian expansionism and global warming (and almost everything in between), Theresa May has more in common with most of her European partners than she does with the incoming U.S. president.

A new special relationship

The tectonic plates of global politics are juddering with such force, few in Westminster feel confident enough to predict where the U.K. will land after Brexit. Divorce could easily turn bitter, souring the relationship for years to come. There is particular concern over the multi-billion Brexit break-up bill which could be demanded from Brussels.

Yet there are growing murmurings that a new special relationship may emerge from the Brexit earthquake — one, counter-intuitively, between the U.K. and Europe rather than with the States.

In telephone calls with senior figures in Trump’s team, U.K. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has pushed his department’s traditional script on the U.K.-U.S. special relationship and underlined the threat to the West from Moscow.

Responses from Vice President-elect Mike Pence and Trump ally Rudy Giuliani have been reassuring, senior government aides said, but there is a private acknowledgement that London has been left in a holding pattern, watching Twitter for clues as to what the most unpredictable president in recent American history will do once in the Oval Office. It’s not a position they have ever found themselves in with Berlin or Paris.

Jonathan Eyal, associate director at the respected London-based foreign affairs think tank RUSI, said a post-Brexit special relationship between Britain and the rest of the EU was “what a lot of the Brexiteers have failed to envisage.”

“A lot of what poisoned the relationship has gone,” Eyal said, pointing to rows about European defence cooperation and wider constitutional questions of sovereignty that have bedevilled debate about the EU in Britain. “Leaving the European Union will allow Britain to play a more positive and constructive role in forging European security structures,” he said.

After all, Eyal said, there is nothing that threatens U.K. security more than a chaotic continent on its doorstep. Britain has skin in the game, whether it likes it or not.

Eyal said there were two obstacles to a new special relationship emerging — lasting European hostility to the Brexit vote and “the temptation by some politicians in London to play divide and rule” in Europe. However, he added: “Once the psychological scars of 40 years of EU membership are out of the way, the road is clear for a very productive relationship between Britain and the European Union — as long as both sides act on the basis of reason rather than emotions.”

Wooing Europe

Europe in return, may look to London as a more stable and understanding military and diplomatic partner than the erratic administration in Washington, which shows signs of turning its back on the Continent by turning cold on free trade, environmental agreements and defense commitments.

European diplomats were more skeptical, insisting that diplomatic relations between the U.K. and many EU member states may take some time to recover following exit negotiations and even if they do, it will be hard to manufacture the closeness that comes with membership.

“It might be a better relationship, but it will be more distant,” one senior diplomat for a European Union member state said. “The cooperation within the European Union framework is very, very close.”

In private the French remain extremely confident that nothing will change to the military alliance struck between London and Paris.
The diplomat warned that this was new territory for both sides. “This will be the first time in 60 years that the British will have to think about its relationship with Europe from outside. Equally, the EU has never had a big European country outside and not trying to get in.”

On a bilateral level, however, there is no sign of let up in the growing ties between London and Paris and Berlin. Quietly but steadily the U.K. and France are integrating militarily following the 2010 Lancaster House Treaty, which forged closer ties on defense and nuclear issues. While British tabloids fumed at the prospect of an EU Army, the country’s troops were being placed, officially, under the command of French officers.

French officials in London and Paris privately confide that the megaphone Euroskepticism on show during the Brexit debate went hand in hand with “incredibly smooth” and increasingly tight bilateral relations, as if those were two different and separate worlds. In private the French remain extremely confident that nothing will change to the military alliance struck between London and Paris.

Anglo-German relations are also developing smoothly. In the U.K. government’s 2015’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, Germany was promoted into the second tier of military and intelligence allies, alongside France, just one tier down from the the U.S.

In the topsy-turvy world of 21st century politics, there is an emerging body of thought that it may have taken an historic break from the Continent for Britain to discover its European roots.

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