Aftermath of Brexit on UK and EU
By Shaun James
On the 24th of June, 2016, David Cameron announced his resignation as the Prime Minister (PM) of the United Kingdom. It came just a day after Britain voted to leave the European Union. Brexit, as it is colloquially known, was the outcome he had vehemently opposed and campaigned against, before the referendum. The vote had settled the UK’s fate, they were set to leave the EU and Cameron did not think he would be the leader to ensure that it was carried out. Few would have thought it would take 5 years and 2 Prime Ministers before a Brexit deal was finally reached.
There were a multitude of problems that Britain had with the EU, some of which exceed this piece's primary focus. But the central idea, that those in favor of leaving campaigned on, was the increasing role the EU had in domestic affairs. What had become blatantly evident is the transformation of the EU into a supranational organisation reminiscent of the Soviet Union. The power to codify and enforce rules had slowly been outsourced to the bureaucrats in Brussels under the guise of a unified Europe. According to (Arnorsson & Zoega, 2018) what started as a treaty between European countries agreeing to mutually beneficial trade had become an organisation with its own currency, flag, courts, a common passport and an anthem. The Brexiteers as they are called started to resent the overarching influence the EU had. The Brexit referendum put to rest any notion that these fears were misfounded or simply far-right propaganda.
The EU’s problems are far from over with Brexit. Their sluggish reaction to the pandemic in terms of containment and distributions of essential medical amenities is evident. The EU’s rigid chain of command left little room to execute quick supply and procurement decisions. The decision to distribute vaccines among member states was lopsided with some left out of receiving their fair share. Several of the Balkan states have openly accused the EU Commission President Ursula Von DeLyon, of not fulfilling her promises as well as her repeated threats of blocking exports of the vaccines (Pike, 2021). The Chancellor of Austria, Sebastian Kurz, along with four other national leaders signed a complaint over the disparity in vaccines among member states. Albeit, the UK had a staggered response to the outbreak at the start, it now leads the world in the vaccination race leaving the EU in its rear-view mirror. As of 26th March, the UK has administered 48 doses per every 100th person whilst the EU has administered only 14 using the same measure (BBC, 2021).
The biggest challenge facing the European Union, at the moment, is the COVID-19 crisis. The longer the pandemic plays out the more distant a quick economic revival appears. If the situation remains as is, the Eurozone’s economy is not expected to reach pre pandemic levels up until 2022 (Sylvers, 2021). Meanwhile the UK is all set to reopen the country by the first week of June. Some economists predict that the UK will face short term economic uncertainty as a consequence of Brexit and the pandemic. However, early reports suggest a better than expected recovery, with the UK’s economy only shrinking 3% during the lockdown (ONS, 2021). Additionally, the unemployment rate fell to 5% in January, a sign of optimism as businesses get ready to open up this summer (ONS ,2021).
Furthermore, the coming post pandemic years will be vital to Europe. The COVID-19 pandemic exposed serious flaws with the EU’s model of governance. A lot will depend on the Union’s ability to command confidence amongst member states. That confidence could be put to test with the loss of a political stalwart affectionately called Mother or “Mutti” in German. In her 16 year tenure as the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, had become the poster girl for the EU. She is set to leave politics for good when her term comes to an end this year. However, her lackadaisical response to the COVID-19 pandemic and now the vaccine rollout has been sharply criticised by political rivals. Her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), saw poor regional election results this year, the lowest vote count since WW2. Additionally 4 MP’s resigned after they faced corruption allegations claiming they had accepted bribes to lobby in favour of a mask making company (Sternburg, 2021). With Merkel on her way out, French President Emmanuel Macron could emerge as the sole face of the EU. Mr. Johnson and him have a rocky history, but increasing tensions between China and the US could further complicate that . The EU has finalised an investment deal with China much to the US’s disappointment. Mr. Johnson will have to walk a thin wire by maintaining bilateral relations with the US as well as staying close to his European allies (Hix, 2018).
As far as the UK is concerned, the Brexit agreement laid out by PM Boris Johnson is far from perfect. The initial deal had lacked a great deal of clarity on the future of financial services in the UK (Moloney, 2016). The fishing industry is also set to wait for a minimum of five years before they regain full control over sovereign fishing waters. Similarly, there were no specific product conformity regulations set in place prior to the withdrawal. Despite some concerns in the deal, the main issues concerning immigration, law and trade had more or less seemed to be settled.
For Johnson, navigating a world after Brexit will be his top priority. When he heads back to the polls in 2024 his chances of reelection will depend significantly on his ability to weave Brexit as a resounding success. And if that isn't enough, on the political front, Scotland is starting to become a growing headache for Mr. Johnson. In the Brexit referendum, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to stay in the EU, 62% to stay and 38% to leave. However, the UK collectively voted to leave, thus reigniting questions of Scottish independence. The First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon is an ardent supporter of an independent Scotland. According to (Jenkins, 2021) her popularity in the country is a testament to the growing nationalist swell. The problem is, Scotland only recently had a referendum in 2014 regarding independence where the ‘No’ side won by some 300,000 votes. Johnson is reluctant to give Sturgeon another chance in less than 6 years reiterating that Scotland would be better off in the UK. He will have to confront Sturgeon and her ambitious plans of rejoining the EU as a newly formed country. Not to mention, the added pressure of the disintegration of the UK as we know it. The bigger challenge however is getting the message across to the Scottish people. Sturgeon is riding on a wave of nationalism and Johnson needs to find a way to take away some of her momentum. The way forward would be convincing Scots that the consequences of leaving would outweigh any benefits. Sturgeon however seems determined to take Scotland back to the EU where she's gained a number of new supporters.
The UK and EU have a lot to gain if they can sort out their Brexit disgruntlement. The future looks increasingly uncertain with China’s brazen assertiveness. The new administration in the White House will be looking to keep traditional allies close and forge new ones. Historically, the UK has always served as a link between the US and Europe (Oliver & Williams, 2016). The coming decade will see if that relationship remains steadfast or wavers to give way to new alliances. Despite linguistic and cultural differences, the UK will always be a part of Europe regardless of whether or not it is part of the EU bloc. Therefore, it will continue to have a huge role to play in shaping power dynamics in the region for years to come.
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