“Exit from Brexit”: Would Britain quit smoking?

, by Juuso Järviniemi

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“Exit from Brexit”: Would Britain quit smoking?
The “best possible” Brexit deal pales in comparison with EU membership, at least from Britain’s point of view. But would Britain be a grudging or a forward-looking member of the European family? © “Ilovetheeu” // Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

Vince Cable, the new leader of the British Liberal Democrats, recently called for an “Exit from Brexit”, an opportunity to stay in the EU after the Brexit negotiations. This is consistent with Liberal Democrats’ established position on Brexit. As Britain is discussing the potential appearance of chlorinated chicken in British markets, one could think the British population would rather stick to the curvy cucumbers of the EU. But what should a European federalist think about the idea?

British EU membership still the best deal for Britain

As someone living in Britain, I may have a vested interest in having the country not get swallowed by the sea. The only political arrangement that has brought Britain strength and stability in the last couple of years has been EU membership, and all steps away from the EU have undermined its position in world affairs.

A caveat to remaining in the EU would be Nigel Farage picking up a rifle. I don’t expect serious societal disruption or violence coming from the Remain camp, but British internal politics might get chaotic if the chlorinated chicken 51.9% of the people explicitly voted for doesn’t make it to the table after all. Dare I remind that some thirteen months ago, a pro-Remain MP was the victim of a political murder, seven days before the referendum?

To avoid such a bleak scenario, a clear democratic mandate for the exit from Brexit would be required. A second EU referendum, proposed by the Liberal Democrats, would give it. In other words, Brexiteers should - and likely would - get over it as they lost, and contemplate their next, non-revolutionary steps. The level of social disruption would be bearable, and otherwise the arguments for remaining in the EU from 2016 would stand, this time made with reference to lived experience rather than mere predictions.

What about Scotland, then? Personally I want Scotland to remain in Europe if Scots so wish. The exit from Brexit would bring about that effect. Independence and subsequent (re-)entry would remain an option, of course, though perhaps it’s questionable to what extent a foreigner would be entitled to an opinion at that point.

...and for Europe, hopefully

The dilemma that Brexit presents for a European federalist was articulated by Jacopo Barbati of the JEF-Europe Executive Board in a Brexit-themed JEF-Finland publication in 2016.[1] As big a political loss for the European project Brexit can be, doing away with a country known for its reserved stance towards further integration may give a boost to the EU. How could we move the EU forward, if one of the strongest members of the bloc is barely willing to be a part of it as it stands today? The feuds over the Common Security and Defence Policy that have taken place even after the Brexit referendum offer an excellent illustration.

Jacopo Barbati’s fear that the British EU referendum might launch a chain reaction has fortunately not come true, but rather to the contrary. In either direction, this debate has largely been exhausted by now. Regardless of whether Britain ends up staying, the message the Brexit process has sent to the rest of Europe has been an unambiguous “don’t try this at home”. For the purpose of this argument, whether Britain chooses to abort Mission Brexit is a matter of detail.

On Financial Times, Wolfgang Munchau doubts that the EU27 would let Britain back in at this point. Considering what was said above, one may legitimately estimate the costs to outweigh the benefits. However, if Britain learned its lesson like a chain smoker who narrowly evaded death of lung cancer, becoming a more constructive part of the European family, the benefits would far exceed the costs. Would Britain quit smoking after its painful three-year chemotherapy treatment? If yes, the other 27 could be friends with it without suffering from the debilitating side effects of passive smoking.

An exit from Brexit may be a long shot, but it would be in Britain’s best interest. If Britain gains humility, it would also be good for the EU, even from the point of view of a federalist. As a member of the pro-European movement in Britain, I’m hoping to play a part in reminding the country of what once made it go bald, and helping it throw the cigarettes away for good.


[1] Jacopo Barbati: Brexit is a tricky one for federalists. Tähdistö 1/2016, pp. 56 - 57. Eurooppanuoret. Available at https://issuu.com/eurooppanuoret/docs/eurooppanuoret_t__hdist__-lehti_1_1.

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