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Will Brexit ever become a real ‘divorce’ from the EU?

By XN Iraki | Sep 24th 2019 | 4 min read
By XN Iraki | September 24th 2019

In 2016, Great Britain voted to leave the European Union (EU). It had joined in 1973 but kept her own currency, the pound, as other EU members did away with their own for the Euro.

The United Kingdom (UK), a more common term than Britain, did not join the Schengen visa system too.

It seems the UK had always been ambivalent in joining EU. Britons, it seems, did not themselves expect a ‘yes’ vote to leave the EU.

They have had two years to leave according to the European Union’s famous Article 50.

It partly says: “Any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.” 

This constitutional requirement makes Brexit so complex. It becomes an internal affair.

It cost Theresa May her premiership. Her successor Boris Johnson has not made matters any better.

Brexit to outsiders looks like a comedy without end. It is even sucking in the Queen.

To outsiders used to globalisation and even exploring the outer fringes of the solar system, it is perplexing why the UK wants to go it alone.

What really drove Brexit? One is fear emanating from world wars, and national pride having not been invaded or conquered since 1066AD.

Two could be the colonial hangover which gave Britons a sense of self-reliance.

Paradoxically, the vote to leave the EU came when the generation that fought world wars is slowly giving way.

The media is however good in evoking such memories.

I recall one Briton being interviewed as the Brexit referendum loomed and suggesting that Germany has tried to control the UK through the two wars and could try to do the same through the EU.

Fear, more than reason, drove Brexit. Why would the UK go against the tide of globalisation, becoming insular?

Control over monetary policy with its own currency was another attraction.

Colonial empire

No wonder Brexiteers talked of Independence Day. The fear of immigrants drives Brexit, with cosmopolitan regions like London voting to remain.

For a country that once ran a colonial empire where the sun never set - and exported culture and language including the one I am writing in now - the fear of immigrants was surprising.

Why fear immigrants who made the US the most economically vibrant country in the world? Or are immigrants to the UK and EU perceived as low quality?

Some even suggest Brexit and its drama is nothing but the UK paying for colonial sins.

Brexit makes me feel the politicians who led the referendum took a big gamble. Or could it have been part of the long game?

Why did President Trump praise Mr Johnson, a leading Brexiteer, before he got into power?

There is already talk of a good trade deal between UK and the US. Did Johnson use Brexit to get power?

The Achilles heels of Brexit are many. One is Scotland, which voted to remain.

Britain would not want Scotland to leave the union, a fact captured by former Prime Minister David Cameron’s recent book. 

Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make the UK.

Scotland is well known in Kenya because of Church of Scotland, which set foot at Kikuyu at the turn of the last century.

In fact, the name Thogoto is a corruption of the name Scotland!

We hope Brexit will not mark the end of the empire, much diminished after colonialism.

The second Achilles heel is the border with the Republic of Ireland, which was under British rule until 1921.

The Republic of Ireland will remain part of the EU, with a hard border wall and all the customs and checks.

Many fear such a hard border would destabilise the region. Remember the Good Friday agreement?

That is why the term backstop is so popular in Brexit lexicon. By making the border “soft” others fear the UK will be tied to the EU indefinitely.

The fact is that Brexit is being watched closely. It’s a free experiment on how economics, politics and some emotions spiced up with thinly veiled nationalism can play out in a very developed country.

Why would the UK leave such a big market to go looking for other markets, yet the EU is only 40 kilometres across the English Channel?

It seems to me the UK will get another Brexit extension.

UK could even be in the EU by 2022. Even if the contentious issues like border with the Republic of Ireland is sorted, there are still lots of uncharted territories.

Brexit appears more complicated than just replacing a prime minister.

National interest

We can ferret a few lessons from the endless Brexit. One is the big difference between political illusions and reality.

And the extent politicians will go to safeguard their interests disguised as national interest.

Did you notice how the UK Labour Party was quick to avoid a general election as the Brexit debate dragged on?

Two is how political and economic issues are tied with an umbilical cord.

Noted how trade negotiations, not political negotiations are preoccupying Brexit?

We were there before.  The East African Community was once vibrant like the EU until parochialism had its way. It was revived after a long lull. It’s now drowned by our devolution.

The sad thing is that the voters often bear the brunt of bad political decisions. Until Brexit, we thought bad political decisions were a third world phenomenon.

Brexit is giving us a second thought. We can finally ask loudly, when will Brexit end? Who will be the losers and gainers? Should Kenya lose sleep over Brexit?

-The writer is an Associate Professor at the University of Nairobi

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