The Boon and Bane of the June 23 Brexit and Implications for Nigeria


with Bola A. Akinterinwa
Telephone : 0807-688-2846

EU is an acronym for European Union which began as European Economic Community of six countries (Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg, France, Germany and Italy) on 25 March 1957 with the signing of the Rome Treaty. On , it became EC (European Community), implying that the scope of cooperation was broadened beyond economic interests. The EC was further restructured into a union, following the signing of the Maastritch Treaty on 7th December, 1992. It currently comprises 27 members.

As shown above, Great Britain was not an original member of the EEC. The reason is not far-fetched: following end of World War II, the British were not much interested in joining the new institutions established by other European States to facilitate better understanding, peaceful ties, and greater cooperation in the continent. Britain’s main preoccupation and interest was the need to sustain closer collaboration with her former colonies, that is, Australia, India Canada, and the United States. It was in 1961 that Britain made her first application for full membership of the EEC and it was turned down mainly as a result of French veto. President Charles de Gaulle was particularly against British membership in the strong belief that there was no way Britain would not become the ‘Trojan Horse for American influence’ in the community.

Besides, Charles de Gaulle might have not forgotten his humiliation by the Americans, British and the Russians following the defeat of the French army during World War II. At one of the meetings in Yalta, Charles de Gaulle was not carried along and was even told that, for him to qualify to participate in their meetings, France would need to have millions of men under arms. In other words, France was not to be reckoned with as a great power. Charles de Gaulle might have therefore taken the bad end of the stick by opposing Britain’s quest for membership. This humiliation partly also explains France’s quest for nuclear power status. Additionally, one other rationale that explains French hostility towards British membership of the EEC was France’s contestation of American leadership and hostility towards French colonialism in Africa.

Consequently, if Britain were to become a member of the EEC, in the thinking of France, it should be in the category of ‘Associate Membership’ and not in the full membership category, but this was not acceptable to the British. It should be recalled that the Rome Treaty provides in its Articles 131-136 for Associate Membership, especially for dependent or colonial countries, and stricto sensu not for countries like the UK. Nigeria applied for associate membership of the EEC. Negotiations were led, on the part of Nigeria, by Dr. P.C.N. Okigbo from 1963 through 1966. However, while all the Member States supported Nigeria’s application, France vetoed it in 1966 in Lagos when the signing of the agreement was to be done.

In the same vein, all the Member States of the EEC supported the 1961 application for membership by the UK but France not only vetoed it in 1963 but also did so for the second time in 1967. He specifically warned the other five EEC members that if British membership were to be imposed on France, it might lead to the break-up of the community. It was after Charles de Gaulle left power in 1969 that the UK’s third application was favourably considered and that full membership was granted to the UK with effect from January 1, 1973.

However, for various reasons, especially the need for self-respect and dignity which many British leaders considered in not wanting to accept French humiliation, agitation for withdrawal of membership of the EEC began. Apart from French opposition, there was also domestic resistance. The opposition was to the extent that Britain has not been able to take active part in all the EC and EU projects. For instance, on 25 March, 1975, the National Front organized demonstrations against membership of the EC. On 26 April, the Labour party voted in favour of leaving the Community. This probably prompted the first British referendum on the matter on 6th June, 1975 by which Britain embraced continued membership of the Community.

As opposition to Britain’s EU membership would not abate, especially that the UK did not join the EMS, the Schengen visa agreement and also refused to participate in the Central Bank of EC, etc, Tony Blair had to announce on 20 April, 2004 the need for a another referendum on Europe. This was the background to the June 23rd, 2016 Brexit in the UK.

The referendum, which took place last Thursday, 23rd June, 2016, had as questionnaire: ‘should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?’ The two operational words in the question are ‘remain’ or ‘leave.’

The June 23rd Referendum
The referendum was held on Thursday, 23rd June, 2016. Voting was scheduled to close at 10 pm local time. There were 382 counting seats. The arguments for and against continued British membership of the EU were quite interesting. Proponents of continued membership considered that Britain is a medium-size island and therefore needs to be part of a bigger bloc of like-minded countries to be able to have enough real influence and security. They raised the very costly economic implications of leaving the EU. For instance, it is expected that both the British pound and the Euro will fall in value. And true, so has it been.

The proponents also offered that Europe was once devastated by two wars in the 20th Century and the main belligerents are now allies within the EU framework. There is the need to continue to sustain this solidarity. Economically, it is submitted that the EU is the biggest trading bloc in the world and that the UK currently has a free tariff access to it. If the UK leaves the EU, this free access would be jeopardized. Besides, the UK will cease to be an investment base in Europe as many companies are likely to relocate their headquarters following Brexit.

The opponents, that is, the ‘leave campaigners,’ have posited that, in the past forty years, the EU has changed considerably in size and reach of its bureaucracy, thus diminishing British influence and sovereignty. In this regard, it is argued that the unlimited powers of the EU had been impinging on the sovereignty of the UK. At the economic level, it is posited that EU regulations had been preventing businesses from operating efficiently and effectively. Regarding migration, the 3 million migrants in the UK are held responsible for problems of unemployment, low wages, poor education and health services. In fact, the migrants are also held responsible for the traffic jams in the UK.

Politically, while it is admitted that the UK cannot but continue to maintain a relationship with the EU, whatever its manner, leaving the EU cannot but also require starting afresh to create new mechanisms for bilateral and multilateral communications which will still require a lot of work without any guarantee of success. In fact, it is not only further argued that if the British leave the EU, the whole of Europe might be faced with political instability, in which case, the entire continent ‘would be weakened, falling into the shadow of a looming Russia.’ It is also submitted that the future of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation could also be compromised.

But without scintilla of doubt, on Friday, 24th June, 2016 at 6.36 am British time (7.36 am Nigerian time) the result of the June 23rd 2016 referendum was announced, thus making the Brexit to now belong to history and putting an end to speculations: 48.11% voters favoured remaining in the EU while 51.89% voted for leaving the EU. This means that the UK has two years to negotiate its final withdrawal.

In this regard, the referendum should not be simply seen as an election to determine whether the British should remain in or leave the EU. It was the crescendo of British intolerance of the EU as a supranational authority and a resolution for preservation of British personality. It was an expression of rivalry between national and organizational sovereignty. It should be noted here that the UK had never, in practical terms, been a full member of the EU. Britain’s full membership has been with some exceptions. For instance, the UK is not part of the Schengen visa agreement. It is also not part of the Central Bank of the EU. It has been having disagreements with several EU policies. Consequently, the Brexit is actually a pronouncement on the future of national sovereignty and supranational authority in international relations.

The British have opted for national sovereignty to the detriment of EU supremacy. Even though considerable emphasis has been given to the need for multilateral diplomacy in the conduct and management of international affairs, the result of the Brexit now points to a contestation of EU multilateralism, which means the UK does not want to give any part of its national sovereignty to the EU as a supranational authority to which it hitherto voluntarily sought membership of. It was also a rivalry between the primacy of the Euro and the pound sterling.

The referendum was a choice between continued enjoyment of free trade privileges and termination of them. It was a choice between continued British contribution of about 15% to the GDP of the EU or discontinuing with it. It was a choice between British and EU approach to what to do with the three million migrants in the UK, as well as the immigration status of the 1.2 million Britons in various EU countries. And perhaps above all, it is a choice between the EU and British models of national development and survival.

In fact, from the perspective of Nigel Farage, the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party, the leave option was a victory for the ‘ordinary man’, the ‘real man’ and the ‘decent man’. The leave campaigners consider the June 23rd Brexit as an independence or liberation day for the British, and arguably as an instrument for ‘freedom for Britain.’ As reported by The New York Times, when Thomas Mair, the killer of Jo Cox, a Member of British Parliament who was a ‘remain campaigner’ was shot dead outside a library in her district of Birstal, England a fortnight ago, was asked what his name was in the court trying him, Mr. Thomas Mair simply replied ‘My Name is Death to Traitors, Freedom for Britain.’ This answer is an expression of deep bitterness and frustration.

Mr. Mair had to kill a compatriot in order to express his dissatisfaction with UK’s membership of the EU. This bitterness is also deep in some other EU countries. Consequently, there is nothing to suggest that the Brexit will not be the starting point for the eventual total dismantlement of the EU as campaigns for similar referendum are also waxing stronger and stronger in France, in The Netherlands, in Greece, etc. The first implication for the EU authorities is the need to take a more serious review of EU policies to prevent further damage.

International Implications: the Boon and the Bane
The first international implication is that Brexit necessarily negates the spirit of globalisation which seeks to promote international communications and technology in a borderless setting. It is aimed to remove self-protectionism in trade relations, and particularly integrate all national economies into one under a market-driven and capitalist global economy. In fact, it has more significant political implications for the great powers, and therefore the need for quick for strategic policy readjustment.

For instance, while China favours Britain’s continued membership of the EU, Russia is against and the reasons cannot be far-fetched: there are fewer irritants in Sino-EU relations than in Russo-EU ties. The UK is a leading proponent of sanctions against Russia within the framework of EU foreign policy towards Russia. The referendum is now history. It has come and gone, thus putting an end to speculations. Such sanctionary measures are expected to be reduced with Brexit. EU restrictions on Russian financial sector are also expected to be relaxed. Additionally, Brexit cannot but also weaken the NATO.

And true the Brexit also constitutes a boon and bane for both China and Russia in the sense that a weakened EU will also be a lesser threat to the emergence of China as a super power and to the US as incumbent superpower. The truth is that the US and its allies want to preserve the exclusiveness and supremacy of Western allies, while, on the contrary, China favours an independent multi-polar world. Also, the Brexit may not enable Africa to have access to British contributions within EU’s multilateral framework. Development assistance to Africa and particularly Nigeria may also be reduced. Brexit has the great potential of helping Britain to control international terrorism more effectively through limitation of inflow of migrants.

Apart from the domino effect of Brexit on other EU members, it also can ignite the dismantlement of the UK itself, especially if Scotland decides to revisit its agitation. In the same vein, it can also disintegrate the African Union for the simple consideration that all that the OAU had done, until its transformation to the AU were all modeled after the EEC, EC and the EU. A good illustration of this observation is evidenced by the provisions of the treaties establishing the ECs and the 1991 Lagos Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community. If Britain can no longer have confidence in the EU as a result of Brexit, Africans may or sooner or later be talking about Nexit, that is, which country in Africa is next to withdraw apart from Morocco?

Implications for Nigeria
One important lesson from the Brexit for Nigeria is the long period of sensitisation of the British people about its advantages and disadvantages. It was in 2004 that the date for the Brexit was fixed. What prompted the decision to organise a Brexit was the initial opposition to the accession of Britain to the EEC. With mounting opposition, attempt was made to determine whether or not UK’s membership should be sustained, first in 1975. The ‘remain campaigners’ had their way then while the ‘leave campaigners’ had their own successful turn last June 23rd.

What is important to note here is that there are many Brexits in Nigeria answering the names MASSOB, Niger Delta Avengers, Boko Haram, etc. The number of people involved may be limited for now but there is nothing to suggest that the number will not continue to increase in the foreseeable future. Consequently, what is ideal to do is to begin to encourage national debate on the need for national unity, with the ultimate objective of resolving the issue through a referendum, rather than approaching the issue by manu militari.

Besides, the choice of a plebiscite to address the national disagreement is another lesson from which to learn. For as long as there is the wish for self-determination in Nigeria, no amount of use of force can quench it because Nigeria’s many problems have the potential to attract innocent sympathizers to the cause of the separatists. Government should therefore quickly begin with a negotiated approach to the protection of national unity.

pix: Buhari and Cameron.jpg