On March 29, 2019, the United Kingdom will cease to be a member of the most successful trade bloc in the world the European Union. It will no longer be a voice to reckon within the European Commission in Brussels. A new leaf in the history of the United Kingdom and her relationship with continental Europe will be turned.
It is this long and confusing process that has been dubbed “Brexit”. It is funny sometimes, to outsiders, to hear people in the UK refer to continental Europe as if it belongs in another place. They are constantly making reference to “us and them”, “UK and Europe” as if to underline the assumption that the UK is not actually in Europe.
If the EU is such a successful trade bloc, which it is, and countries in and around European mainland are queuing up for membership, why would any existing member want out???
The answer to the main question lies in the understanding of a unique British attitude and its identity in the modern world. Allow me to give you yet another History lecture.😂
Had you been with me I would be taking you through how the UK became part of the EU.
The EU, formerly known as the EEC (European Economic Community), was established by the Treaty of Rome in 1957 as an “economic” community, but was renamed the European Union, in 1993, its initial object having evolved from an economic entity into socio-political, economic, quasi European government over the decades through the wishes of its now 28 members. It will be reduced to 27 upon Britain’s exit next month.
It is important to note that the UK was not part of its foundation members. She applied to become a member in 1961, but the then French President, Charles de Gaulle, applied the French veto on the UK’s membership, suspicious of her ulterior motive. The “special relationship” between Britain and the USA was thought to pose a threat to the “European project” of an independent, counter influence on world’s affairs envisioned by the founding members. It was feared then that the UK would be in the club as a stooge for the Americans, therefore bringing along negative influence on the organisation. But, after prolonged political manoeuvrings and changes in world affairs, the UK was finally admitted in 1974, following a bitterly divisive referendum. Your next question would probably be, Why was it such a big deal?…
Well, opposition to the EU membership in the UK cuts across the ‘Left’ and ‘Right’ divide. Politicians on the Left of the political spectrum were deeply suspicious of the EU becoming a club for the rich and business elite across Europe, while politicians on the Right of the political spectrum feared that the EU was a fundamental threat to Britain’s Parliamentary democracy, as more and more powers were being ceded to the EU, whose decisions were becoming increasingly binding and non-negotiable. It has been left to politicians in the middle, the so-called “moderates”, in the UK’s main political parties, to steer the debate along a consensus. The ‘consensus’ was that the EU is more of a force for good than bad. Opposition to the EU grew increasingly vocal amongst the politicians on the political Right in the 1980s because of two things: The rise and influence of Germany as the dominant economic force in Europe, and the increasingly “social” or “socialistic” dimension of the Union in terms of employment and social services provisions. What is more galling for “Right-wing” politicians in the UK was the relics of history, which had witnessed how the UK under Winston Churchill stood up to and defeated “Nazi” Germany in World War II. Germany had indeed been defeated and its economy in ruins. It was rebuilt through help from America and the UK, which had banished Germany from ever rising to the status of military power again. It worked. Are you following??
What then happened, though, was that Germany’s focus on economics and technology saw it rise to the status of global economic power, surpassing the UK and most, if not all European countries. The Right-wing now feared the prospect of Germany achieving in peace time, what it had failed to achieve through war, that is, European domination. The campaign to take Britain out of the EU had taken almost three decades to achieve, it was dominated by nationalist fervour on the Right, and on the Left, it was welcomed as a relief from the “shackles of Brussels”.
Politics, rather than economics, had won the day. The UK may well rue the day they left the EU, and to forestall a calamitous outcome to Brexit, Africa has now become the new darling to be wooed and embraced as the UK’s newest trading partners. Too ironic for a country that colonised much of the land in Africa, then, neglected it in pursuit of European influence, then, saw China become Africa’s biggest foreign investors and trading partner if you ask me. The UK is now rushing back to Africa to recover lost grounds.
It is in this context that the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May’s recent tour of three African states (Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria) must be understood. The trip last August, 2018, was billed by the Prime Minister (who had never been to sub-Saharan Africa before), as a “unique opportunity at a unique time for the UK”. The UK wants “to deepen and strengthen its global partnerships as it leaves the EU. It was the first time a British Prime Minister would visit Africa since 2013.
It is very important to note that, the UK’s visibility on the continent has been clearly in decline at the same time as that of France, Turkey, Japan and most especially China have been on the rise. The Prime Minister was accompanied by a bevy of trade negotiators on a chartered RAF (Royal Air Force) “voyager” transport plane to try and sign as many deals as they could possibly muster. The UK had earlier hosted the Somalia Conference in London in 2017; the minister of finance, Phillip Hammond, international trade secretary, Liam Fox, and foreign secretary Boris Johnson, had been criss-crossing Africa, frantically building or should I say rebuilding friendship in the last couple of years.
Nigeria and South Africa, however, remain the main targets of their efforts for obvious reasons. They are the UK’s largest trading partners, worth approximately $3.3 billion and $8.7 billion respectively, all of which in favour of British export into the countries, of course. The Kenyan president said when challenged about the growing Chinese influence in his country: “We are not looking to China, China is looking to us”. – The same could be said of the UK’s renewed interest in Nigeria and Africa in general.
The question is, are we going to be wise enough to dictate the terms of the UK’s engagement with us this time around??🤔🤔🤔
There you go, some food for thought. Go ahead, leave a comment, let me know what you think.
Till next time on TheLeoNation…