Lessons of Brexit #564

From Jonathan Freedland, pointing out two important things about the EU that Britons might not have appreciated in 2016.

The EU tends to get its way, as it will again next week when it once more dictates extension terms. It’s a big bloc with serious clout, an equal across the table when it faces the world’s other two economic superpowers, China and the US. When Britain comes to negotiate a trade deal with Donald Trump, we’ll get eaten for breakfast – with a side dish of chlorinated chicken. But in the EU, Washington or Beijing meet their match.

The same goes for tackling the other major forces shaping our lives. Last month, the EU fined Google $1.7bn for choking competition in the advertising market. Apple and Facebook are in Brussels’ sights too, as the EU looks to give individuals control over their own data and the money it generates. According to the Economist: “Europe is edging towards cracking the big-tech puzzle.”

If that’s what the EU can achieve as a group, look what it can do for an individual member state. The key obstacle to passage of May’s deal has been the Northern Ireland backstop. Why has that issue persisted? Because the EU has thrown its collective weight behind the border concerns of a single, small member – Ireland. For several centuries, an iron rule of any dispute between Ireland and Britain was that Britain, the bigger nation, would always win. Not any more. Because Ireland is now part of a bigger bloc. The backstop has made vivid what perhaps was abstract in the British imagination: that by pooling together with other nations, a country might give up a modicum of theoretical sovereignty, but it gains a whole lot of practical strength. Britain used to benefit from that obvious fact of geopolitics; now we are suffering from it. In an arm-wrestle with our once-weak neighbour, we are being outmuscled.