Brexit is one of the most debated geopolitical issues of our time. More than two years after the referendum that resulted in the decision to leave the EU, it is still unclear what the exit conditions will be like and the prospects of a “no deal” Brexit are looming at the horizon. With such high degree of uncertainty, it is difficult to foresee how things will eventually unfold, but one thing is certain: Brexit will have a sensible impact on Britain in the years to come.
Britain’s geopolitics & history
The history and the foreign policy of the United Kingdom have been deeply marked by its geographic position. As an island off the European coasts, not far from France, it was isolated enough to be sufficiently repaired from foreign threats but close enough to be obliged to care about the Continent’s affairs. Since William the Conqueror’s conquest in 1066, no invader managed to land on the British soil. After a long process marked by turmoil and civil war, a unified kingdom of Great Britain was established in the early 18th century. Thanks to its favourable position protracted towards the Atlantic Ocean, it managed to consolidate and expand its colonial territories. This, combined with its rich coal deposits and with an institutional system favouring capitalism and the technological innovation, allowed Britain to spark the industrial revolution. Gradually, Britain strengthened its fleet and turned into the world’s leading naval power. The Royal Navy became the cornerstone of its national security and the vehicle of its imperial expansion: its supremacy allowed Britain to impede any invasion from the mainland, but at the same time enabled it to extend its influence overseas and dominate maritime trade. Back then it acted as the “balancer” of European politics: when any given power starter becoming too powerful and consequently threatening for its national security, Britain backed a coalition to counter its rise; sometimes intervening directly with its army such as during the Napoleonic Wars. At the height of its power in the second-half of the 19th century, the British Empire ruled over one quarter of the world and was the first power of its time.
But America’s rise and two World Wars determined its decline. After 1945, Britain gradually lost its immense colonial empire and its industry was disrupted by foreign competition. To ensure its security it joined NATO, the trans-Atlantic military Alliance supported by the US to contain the Soviet Union. On the political and economic level, Britain was initially cautious towards the European Integration project, and preferred to promote its own multilateral institutions like the Commonwealth and the European Free Trade Association. Yet, in 1973 it decided to join the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the EU. Nevertheless, its relations with the EU have always been turbulent. It opposed several integration initiatives and exerted its “opt out” right over several issues, albeit in different forms. In 1992, it rejected to join the Exchange Rate Mechanism and any obligation to adopt the Euro.