The geopolitical case against Brexit matters

by Rob Marchant

The decision Britain will make tomorrow is clearly a big one. Perhaps truly the most significant of our lifetimes, in terms of its strategic direction of travel as a country and the way the 21st century will shape up for us.

A decision in favour of Brexit will inevitably have short-term impacts. Some of them, such as a potential drop in sterling for exporters, may even be positive. But some vital, long-term effects are likely to be about Britain’s place in the world; its geopolitical power, if you like.

These are difficult-to-gauge, but nevertheless important, effects which are largely drowned out in the current debate by the bread-and-butter arguments about trade or immigration. Or “sovereignty”, that largely meaningless word currently being flogged to death.

Which would be fine, if we lived in a world full of stability, free of threats. Or even such a Europe.

We do not.

It is a good time to remember, for example, that only a few hundred miles of Mediterranean separate Daesh forces from the southern shores of the EU. Or that its eastern fringe – the Baltic states – is currently subject to a very real threat of clandestine invasion by Russia, as has already happened in Crimea and eastern Ukraine. Or even that the Americans and Russians are currently engaged in an increasingly threatening war of words over US presence in the Black Sea. And this is all in the context of a savage war in Syria, exacerbated by the meddling of Russia and its proxy, Iran, which has triggered the biggest refugee crisis in Europe since World War II.

Now the EU, we need to be clear, is not a military alliance, or at least not in any meaningful sense right now. Britain’s supranational mechanism for defence is, and has been for the last seventy years, NATO and that is not in question.

But the EU is a bloc with geopolitical weight. In Europe, there are three NATO members which matter: the UK, France and Germany. Historically, only the first two really count in terms of actual military deployment; Germany counts because of its economic and political domination of modern Europe since the fall of the Berlin wall.

Under Angela Merkel, Germany has had an alternating challenge-appease-challenge approach to Russia and is currently applying a similar strategy with Turkey. While its preference for diplomacy over bombs is to be admired up to a point, it seems doubtful that Putin sees Germany as a real barrier to its sabre-rattling over the Baltic states.

There is no doubt that an EU, faced with the signal that Britain was going it alone, would tend ever more towards a Franco-German axis in terms of joint action, be it political, humanitarian, military or whatever. It would not be the same. Britain would not be a guest at the same tables as before.

It is fascinating that members of both the far left on the one hand, and the Kippers and diehard Tory right on the other, can simultaneously make two, diametrically opposed arguments.

One, that leaving the EU does not matter geopolitically, and two, that it does, as exemplified the EU was instrumental in “driving Russia to invade Ukraine”. But it must be either one or the other, it cannot be both.

This inconsistency leads us to think that yes, the EU does after all wield a soft, and important, geopolitical power. But, as a competing power which dwarfs Russia economically, it is not a power that Vladimir Putin likes, not at all.

Which would rather explain why he has carefully cultivated Eurosceptic parties on left and right, as the Economist explains here. Or why both these left and right parties are currently pursuing an isolationist, non-interventionist foreign policy. Or why Russian propagandists were quick to blame the Ukrainian invasion as a local uprising triggered by “EU meddling”.

While these are views which are surprisingly close to those of Labour’s current leader and Shadow Chancellor, it is also clear that Labour’s current PLP composition, and realpolitik in the country, have prevented them being articulated, since Corbyn and McDonnell have been forced into a position of lukewarm support for Remain, as I argued here.

But the mere fact that Putin – and doubtless Daesh and others – would clearly like Britain to leave the EU (as Garry Kasparov ably argues here), is surely one of the most important reasons for us to stay. One certainly hopes that our own leader’s lukewarm support does not derive from his inability to see the darkness of the increasingly authoritarian and belligerent regime in Moscow. And if you doubt that that is the case, you should perhaps examine his appearances on Moscow’s own propaganda channel to the West, Russia Today.

Either way, this is really not the time for Britain to weaken a relatively united front in Europe by leaving. Not while our enemies are waiting expectantly for just that opportunity.

Rob Marchant is an activist and former Labour party manager who blogs at The Centre Left

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10 Responses to “The geopolitical case against Brexit matters”

  1. Mr Akira Origami says:

    Daesh long term aim is to conquer Europe and therefore I imagine they are for Remain and not Leave.

    …and let’s not forget that the Russians were British allies in WW2 and without them we would have never got further than the Normandy beaches.

    Germany has only been going for 145 years, it messed Europe up big time, twice before…I wouldn’t put it past them to mess things up again.

    Britain is better off OUT.

  2. joh nP Reid says:

    immigration hasn’t even come up with Brexiters who switched from labour to the Tories or ukip at the last election, in fact the only time was a ukipper praising the fact there would be more Commonwealth immigration although while giving out labour leave leaflets I was shouted at for being a racist yesterday

    but labour up North has ignored the immigration debate, for a generation to the point, where, we sleep walked into melt down in Scotland, we will have a similar effect ,where our vote goes ,in certain areas, apart form traditional labour ones ,such as Manchester and Liverpool in 2020

    this referendum wasn’t about immigration in Labour heartlands, but we missed atrick,tothe point where,our core vote at best will stay at home,but not for ever, and we’ll be in for a shock if they do go elsewhere in 4 years time

  3. Tafia says:

    I have a feeling that no matter what the final result is tomorrow (and I will vote Leave) , this will result in major major re-alignments for both the Tories and Labour. This will not end tomorrow night no matter what.

    I think when Cameron threw the option of a referendum into the ring last year, he was fairly confident of getting 60/40 or higher – and even in the opening stages it looked like it would be a bit of a walkover for Remain.

    Instead, just hours before the polls open, it’s neck and neck and the country split not only down the middle but also geographically and class-wise.

    The message the result – either way, transmits to Europe and more importantly to our domestic politicians is that a substantial chunk of the UK is anti-EU and will remain so no matter what the result is.

    The tories are virtually in civil war over this and Labour’s core working class vote – it’s blue collar, is in open revolt in northern England, the midlands and the welsh valleys and none of that is going to end at 10pm tonight.

    This is just the start.

  4. Anon E Mouse says:

    Is there a chance if we take the sensible option and vote to leave the EU that the Labour Party will start being representative of it’s voters instead of university educated people that have never done a proper job?

    This article is so out of touch with the way the working class think in this country it could genuinely be called “gobsmacking”.

    Because of the stupid behaviour of the PLP in this referendum I fear the party will disappear in the Midlands and North of England just as it did in Scotland.

    North of the border Labour has been destroyed by the SNP and the official opposition is now the Tories. That is because the party refused to listen to it’s voters and ploughed on with it’s arrogant out of touch patronising manner.

    The likes of Balls, Cooper, Burnham etc for some reason think the electorate need to be preached to with nonsense like mass immigration being a good thing. If you live in Hampstead or Knightsbridge it doesn’t affect you. If you live in Burnley believe me it does.

    This article is more of the same stuff that does nothing but alienate Labour voters and drive them to UKIP.

    Corbyn quite rightly hates the EU as all Socialists should and he should have stuck to his principals and destroyed the Tories by recommending a vote to Leave.

    No one seriously thinks we’ll go anyway and a better deal will be struck but seeing the Labour leadership on the side of the Tories and Francis O’Grady on the side of Goldman Sachs and PWC is just a step too far.

    When Labour is finished outside London and UKIP have their vote the mindset that makes members think this article is acceptable to party supporters will show how out of touch and irrelevant they now are.

  5. I’m passionately pro-Remain. The economic costs of Leave could be very severe, but the above is even more worrying.

    What scares me is that there are bound to be unintended consequences – a myriad of things that could go badly wrong if you wreak havoc with one of the most important international institutions in the world today.

    However, Sam Dale is right. It’s the economy that will swing more votes, so the economy that we have to bang on about.

  6. Anon E Mouse says:

    Has it never occurred to you George Kendall that people who have very little really aren’t afraid of losing it?

    Cameron, the Labour Party and all the big banks, spivs and elites must surely have seen that the polls were’t shifting with their nonsense of economic catastrophe yet they continued to do it. The world has gone mad.

    Is the Labour Party now so out of touch and devoid of common sense or empathy for the poor that they believe the whole world revolves around money?

    The sooner Labour can splinter and let the middle class clowns that have never worked and do nothing to sneer at the workers in this country can go and join the Tories.

    The only people who wanted this referendum were those who want to leave and if Labour continue to ignore their core vote they can standby to lose ALL support outside of London.

    Maybe you missed the SNP and Tories dominating Scottish politics George…

  7. @Anon E Mouse

    It has occurred to me. But they’re wrong not to be afraid. There are worse things than a mixed economy with low unemployment, a safety net and free healthcare.

    Prospects of improving that are grim, because Labour has such poor leadership, and the Lib Dems are still reeling from last year’s catastrophe. But if we Brexit, they’ll get a lot worse.

    Paul Johnson, director of respected thinktank Institute for Fiscal Studies says: “Many economists I’ve met in recent weeks have confided that they are quite literally losing sleep over this. There is a palpable fear that something really quite grim for the British economy could follow a Brexit.”

    There are only a handful of economists who don’t see Brexit damaging the economy, and their leading light, Patrick Minford has admitted that it would “mostly eliminate manufacturing”. But how many voting on Thursday will know that?

    He accepts that Brexit would mean a large increase in wage inequality, but do the Leave campaign admit this?

    Those who advocate Brexit argue that removing regulation will make companies more profitable, but does the average voter know this could mean longer hours and worse conditions for workers?

    I just hope we Remain, so they never have to find out.

  8. Anon E Mouse says:

    @ George Kendall

    We live in a Parliamentary democracy George and once we are free from the elites of Europe we can get proper representation of the workers in our country.

    The irony is that all the nonsense stuff Corbyn has espoused over the years would only be possible if we Brexit.

    Europe need taming and the elites need to understand they serve us and need to act on our behalf not theirs.

    Any Labour supporter that doesn’t care about the poor in Southern Europe should go and join the Tories as far as I’m concerned and I am right about the working class deserting Labour and personally I think the party is going to suffer a MASSIVE loss of MP’s at the 2020 election and if we Remain then it will only annoy half the country and make them vote UKIP.

    Even if we don’t get a vote to Leave tomorrow (and I think we will) it is over for Labour after this I feel. What is the point of the party if all it odes is sneer at it traditional supporters and support big business.

    As for all the scaremongering about workers rights blah blah no government will be elected if they propose changing anything and I fear TTIP more than anything the UK government could come up with.

    It’s not too late though George to come and grow a pair and vote to Leave today 😉

  9. @Anon E Mouse

    Regarding workers rights, my point is about the most prominent of the tiny handful of economists who says the UK will thrive after Brexit. Minford says the UK can thrive by allowing greater inequality, fewer workers rights and for manufacturing to wither away.

    I don’t believe in Minford’s rightwing nirvana of greater poverty as a price to pay for fabulous wealth for others. But even for those who do, if you’re right, that wouldn’t happen.

    And, if that theory is discounted, we’re left with what other economists think will happen, of severe economic consequences for the country.

  10. Anon E Mouse says:

    @ George Kendall

    I won’t say I told you so but after watching Labour’s Lady Nugee on the BBC earlier I really do now fear for the future of the party.

    Labour needs to realise that sneering people like her and her other wealthy chums – the Polly Toynbee types – only serve to alienate the core vote of the party and looking at the areas that Leave did so well in I can see UKIP now destroy the party in 2020.

    Unless Labour learns it’s lesson and learns it quickly the party is doomed. I was right all along about the vote to leave and I’m right about this.

    If Labour starts it’s stupid “we need to learn lessons” nonsense they will be talking to themselves in groupthink and the end of the party will come like a freight train.

    This referendum could finish Labour for good unless they really start to listen.

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