It’s hard to be certain on anything about Brexit. Even the Prime Minister’s ambition to leave the European Union on March 29th is up in the air after a bruising week of Parliamentary business for the embattled PM.
But what about the other side?
During the referendum debate there was much talk about the EU’s wider troubles – with the twin crises of debt and refugees making the bloc seem as embattled as the croaky-voiced PM is now. Leave campaigner Nigel Farage raised the prospect of a ‘domino effect’, with other nations rushing to follow the UK’s lead.
At face value the rise of populists in Italy, Germany, France and beyond would appear to show that the EU faces big issues. It’s also fair to say that some of the underlying structural issues that emerged during the Eurozone debt crisis – the story of which is outlined in a new guide from DailyFX – are still yet to be resolved and threaten to rise to the fore again.
Yet does this mean Farage will be proven right?
It’s important to avoid conflating political and economic difficulty with a desire to leave the EU, indeed it’s even important to avoid mixing criticism of the EU with out and out opposition to it.
The Independent’s Jon Stone recently highlighted the lack of appetite on the continent to leave the EU. He noted how even voters in Eurosceptic Denmark say they would stay in the EU by a margin of 55 per cent to 27 – while an Ireland-wide poll put support for EU membership at 92 per cent. Those numbers support a European Parliament report that showed pro EU sentiment is now at its highest since 1983.
Even if they secretly think it, populists on the continent rarely call for withdrawal from the EU and the idea of leaving the Eurozone for those with the common currency is seen as economically disastrous.
Yet Brexit itself is also inadvertently helping to shore up the Eurozone as it continues to grapple with its economic and political future.
As Stone notes, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte took out a full-page advert in newspapers warning Dutch voters to learn the lessons from the chaos in Britain. Even hardline Hungary dismisses the idea of leaving – and it seems more likely that Orban’s regime would be removed than leave of its own accord.
Writing for the Financial Times, Tony Barber demonstrated this, arguing: “The EU’s biggest protection against Hungexit, Swexit, Italexit or any other kind of exit, is the Brexit process itself. For governments and societies in the EU’s other 27 states, to watch events in the UK since the June 2016 referendum has been a sobering experience.
“Correctly or not, they conclude that Brexit is at best a leap in the dark, at worst an episode that has turned upside down a country they once admired for its moderation and pragmatism. As a result, it seems improbable that any country will be in a hurry to follow in Britain’s footsteps.”
So, while it’s correct to note that the EU has big political challenges ahead it is – for now at least – wrong to conclude that Brexit is a template that others wish to follow. If anything, the Brexit template is enough to make even the EU’s most extreme critic think again about taking such drastic action.