There is little silver lining to Britain’s exit from the European Union

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May smiles after she delivers a speech on leaving the European Union at Lancaster House in London, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)

On Tuesday, Theresa May, the recently elected Prime Minister of Britain, announced that her country would not seek to remain part of the “single market” trading bloc despite its exit from the European Union. This confirms Britain’s intention to go through a so-called “Hard Brexit,” a practically complete removal of Britain from the politico-economic sphere of the European Union. Many Britons, including those who voted to leave the European Union, had hoped that Britain could retain the favorable trade deals granted by the European Union’s single market while still being able to leave the union itself.

But May’s announcement confirms that will not be the case. Britain will be forced to re-negotiate deals with the European Union after its exit from the union is completed. This reality puts the entire “Brexit” itself into further doubt. Once touted as a move that would boost Britain’s economy, it now seems that domestic business will suffer as access to the single market is removed.

It seems foolish that Britain thought it could retain single market membership while still leaving the European Union itself. It was a selfish desire; Britain had hoped to retain membership benefits but at the same time cast off the responsibilities that came with them. Think of the message that would have sent had the European Union had allowed Britain to a “Soft Brexit”. It would have been a message to other member states that if any of them wanted more favorable trade deals or wanted to pay less membership fees, all they had to do was leave the European Union. Why pay to be in the European Union if you can still get all the benefits for free? Considering the rocky state of the European Union beyond just Britain’s exit, the last thing they should want is for other states to pack up and leave.

From this logic, a gloomy reality is now apparent. It is in the best interest of the E.U. to make Britain’s exit as difficult as possible. It should demonstrate not only to Britain but to every member state that the incentives for staying heavily outweigh any possible incentives for leaving. Britain should be economically cast off to the side and made to pay for their rash decision. The negotiations of new trade deals should be strict and prolonged. By making Britain’s exit from the union as economically and socially painful as possible, the E.U. sends a clear message to its member states of the fate that awaits them if they choose the same path.

In a perfect world, Britain could politely leave the European Union and their relationship be civilly redefined. Instead, a polarizing referendum campaign led to a decisive leave negotiation between the two. The ball is now in the E.U.’s court, and its next step is clear. Britain must be made to pay for its decision. Perhaps it is a reality that no one had hoped for, one many had hoped could be avoided. But if the E.U. were to go soft on Britain, it would send the completely wrong message to the remaining member states.

The future of Europe now seems gloomier than ever. Instead of a united Europe strong to stand up against the growing power of Russia, China and Trump’s America, it must attend to patching the very foundations that the union was founded upon. Britain’s exit is all but official. For its own sake, the E.U. should forget Britain was ever a member and begin moving forward to a new era of a united Europe. It’s a sad reality that is ever apparent.  


Colin Mortimer is a contributor to The Daily Campus Opinion section.  He can be reached via email at colin.mortimer@uconn.edu