Brexit deal shows rationality ruled emotion

Global Times | 作者: Cui Hongjian | 时间: 2018-11-28 | 责编: Wang Jiapei
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Leaders of 27 European Union members approved on Sunday with rare unanimity an agreement on the UK's withdrawal from the bloc. Though there is still some uncertainty, the Brexit deal is quite clear: As long as the parliaments of the UK and the EU can ratify the agreement, the UK will leave the bloc by the end of March 2019 as scheduled. And UK-EU relations will become more constructive, according to the terms reached. 

Looking back at the Brexit process and negotiations, the most important conclusion one can draw is that only rationality, rather than emotion, can lead Brexit negotiations to a bright future and guide UK-EU ties away from pessimism.

The Brexit referendum's outcome was the result of dissatisfaction Britons nursed being inside the EU for decades, but undeniably in this process, some "Leave" elites had considerably utilized public discontent. The EU was also overcome by rage. It asked the UK for a large sum of money as penalty and some EU countries even wished to see the UK exit without a deal. 

At the beginning of Brexit negotiations, emotions ruled and the UK and EU maintained a distance in their stances. Amid heightened sensitivity, any topic could be interpreted as offensive by the other side. 

Fortunately, the two sides could see reason due to time limits and the mindset of avoiding risks. After the UK and EU failed to bring out a draft agreement as scheduled in October, the chances of a no-deal Brexit prompted them to calm down: If Brexit indeed ends up with no deal, after March 2019, UK-EU relations will plunge into a huge chaos since there are no laws or rules to follow. A series of problems thereby caused in terms of politics, diplomacy, trade, investment, security and people-to-people exchanges will send massive shocks across the English Channel, benefiting no one. It is the fear of such disorder that has pushed both sides to approach the negotiations rationally and carefully. As a result, negotiations gathered speed and British Prime Minister Theresa May herself led the talks. 

Extending the Brexit transition period indicates that London and Brussels hope to reserve some maneuvering space for issues that cannot be addressed immediately and implies that negotiations will be extended. This satisfies the UK's demand of combining future relations with the EU and Brexit in negotiations and to some extent alleviates the May government's predicament of divisions in her party and among the public as well as the intervention of parliament. May now has the needed environment and space to lead and reach the agreement.  

Rationality leads to mutual compromises. The Brexit deal and the Political Declaration just reached show that the EU holds a strong bargaining position, but it has meanwhile conferred benefits on UK. At this stage, the EU has given up the threatening strategy and admitted the goal of the British government on future relations that both sides seek a customized future arrangement. This mutual compromise enables May to provide those hesitant in her party and the parliament with a persuasive vision and to convince them to endure the temporary loss of interests so that eventually the British Parliament will ratify the deal. 

Rationality leads to a middle path between "Brexit and Bremain," "soft Brexit" and "hard Brexit." It could be illustrated by May's equivocal position during Brexit negotiations. Judging from the current agreements and documents, May's cabinet has taken more cognizance of the interests of the business community in order to avoid major changes in the UK-EU relationship in the short term.

However, rationality forced out by fear is fragile. The sense of disappointment, dissatisfaction or anger may stage a comeback, which may lead to further bumps in the Brexit process. Many hard Brexiteers interpret the Brexit deal as the ''surrender and humiliation'' of Great Britain, which indicates that nationalism and even populism still have a place in the UK. Although the EU can hardly celebrate the deal as a victory, it is not easy for it to conceal the excitement after the negotiations. This may add uncertainty to the British Parliament's vote in December.

While the Brexit referendum two years ago was considered less rational, the British Parliament has an opportunity to amend that choice. 

The negotiations on future UK-EU relations will be tougher. But if the vote passes, the Brexit process can at least be launched without being obstructed. It is not only the responsibility of the British elite to bring stability and certainty to Britons, but also an obligation to the market and regional and international relations.



The author is director of the Department of European Studies, China Institute of International Studies.


Source: Global Times, November 27, 2018.