Gone are the days when it was believed that the sun never sat on the British Empire. The United Kingdom today maintains a landmass only a fraction of the size of its Empire, and in the last few decades, specifically, after the second world war, has been overshadowed by economic giants, such as India, China, and the United States. Departing finally from the European Union, the Conservative Government under Boris Johnson is rewriting the history books. After what could be only hundreds of hours of discussion on the floors of the Palace of Westminster, and a never-ending political ping pong, the UK finally achieved to negotiate a deal with Brussels. While several political pundits have been scratching their heads in an effort to understand the effects of Brexit on both the UK and EU, many have seemingly overlooked its effects on other regions of the world, particularly the Middle East, where Britain enjoys a long history of Imperialism.
There is no denying the fact that the United Kingdom had a significant impact on the European Union’s Foreign Policy. Brexit, in terms of the Middle East, the UK has shared the same concerns as the leadership in Brussels. This has included securing the flow of oil, ensuring non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and combating radical groups. However, cooperation with continental Europe has not always been the UK’s top priority when it came to Foreign Policy. As seen most notably in 2003 when the British government, under Labour Prime Minister joined the US-led coalition in invading Iraq, abasing strong criticism from Germany and France. To analyze Great Britain’s withdrawal from the confederacy, we look at three specific effects.
EU’s Loss of Power — Brexit & Middle East
We have already established the centrality of the British in the European Union’s economic development, foreign policies, and trade activities. Given the UK’s heightened power with the confederation, Brexit has not only left a gaping wound within the EU but has also shown the fragility of the union. Cracks within the European Union are so evident that political experts and heads of state, have entertained the possibility that the confederation may eventually break down completely. Since the Brexit referendum, there have been various right-wing discussions across European countries. The most glaring example of this is Poland. There has been a set of disagreements between the Polish government and the European Commission over contentious judiciary reforms.
The seriousness of the disagreements between the two entities is reflected through the words of the European Council President Donald Tusk who said, “The Matter is dramatically serious. The risk is deadly serious. Polexit is possible.” A similar situation of contention has developed between Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s Hungarian right-wing government, which has been at odds with the EU, ever since the union voted overwhelmingly to label Orban’s government as a “systemic threat to the rule of law”. Given the current state of the Union, a weaker and inward-looking Europe is predicted to be less involved in the Middle East. The nature of Europe’s dealings with actors in the Middle East will significantly be altered as it strikes to bargain with authoritarian figures in maintaining border security and stability while paying lip service to its values and ideals. In terms of seeing the actual effects of Europe’s or the UK’s dealings with the states of the Middle East, post-Brexit, it will be interesting to see if the EU still enjoys its power to promote its values of the rule of law and democracy, given the significant erosion in soft power after the Brexit.
UK’s Interventionist Policy
The second aspect that we focus on is the prediction that the United Kingdom may adopt an interventionist policy following Brexit — Even though, in regards to the Middle East, historically the UK has followed an independent foreign policy. Breaking away from the European Union, grants the country freedom from its regional commitments to mainland Europe and could lead to a more pragmatic and self-interested approach to its dealing with Middle Eastern states.
With the UK adopting a more selective role in the region, it is expected that the country will pursue short term goals over long term goals. This might include its interests in fighting terrorism and promoting UK business, rather than focusing on establishing a peace process in states like Syria. This however does not mean that the British will overlook the peace process completely. Being an important stakeholder in the Middle East Peace Process is vital for the country to maintain its relevance and influence in the region. If anything, a post-Brexit future may be the most ideal time for Britain to assert itself in the Middle East region, especially as the EU could be further weakened by Britain’s future departure and its internal problems. In terms of the business expansion in the Middle East, the Global Risk insight has predicted that the country will extensively focus on the Gulf region, along with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.
Regional and International Actors
Given the probability of the EU adopting a more inward-looking policy and the UK following a more self-interested pattern in its interactions with Middle Eastern Actors, there is a possibility that this could result in a greater role for global powers such as China, to develop strategic partnerships and political alliances with the countries in the region. There could also be an increased role of regional actors in combating security dilemmas and economic issues through the involvement of the Gulf Cooperation Council. In terms of the Council, the GRI has predicted that blocks such as the GCC will step-in to essentially develop security and economic frameworks to address regional issues. However, this seems a bit too idealistic given the current political issues the Middle East is plagued with, and the splintering of various member states into their network groups, such as the Saudi-Emirati Coordination Council.
From our discussion on the effects of Brexit, it is clear that the process has not only redefined relations between the Middle East, the United Kingdom and the European Union and reshuffled the intentional economy, but also has the potential of significantly altering Europe’s and the UK’s relations individually with other international actors. There exists tremendous insecurity and anxiety in markets around the world, as experts stand by to see the effects of these changes. A great amount of diffidence can be felt in the case of both the EU and the UK, as both remain unsure of how Joe Biden, the President-elect of the United States of America might react to the current situation. Had the Brexit deal gone through under Trump we could have expected him to adopt a more pro-British stance, but with Biden, the ball can be in anyone’s court. Only time will truly tell.
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