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24 June 2021

How Brexit changed us: The UK’s departure has given the EU the illusion of strength

Both Remainers and Leavers ignored the impact of their decision on an EU in deep internal crisis.

By Yanis Varoufakis

Despite their bitter antagonism, Remainers and Leavers shared a fallacious assumption: that the European Union as we know it was a given. They both saw it as an entity quite independent of the UK which voters would either want to remain part of or leave. By concentrating their slings and arrows on the pros and cons of membership, both sides utterly ignored the impact of their decision on an EU whose deep internal crisis guaranteed its flux.

Leavers understood, with a certain glee, the ill-effects of the UK’s departure upon the EU but failed to grasp the secondary ill-effects of Brexit upon the UK itself. Hard Remainers, who presented the EU as almost perfect, understood the ill-effects of Brexit upon the UK but failed to grasp the manner in which their sycophancy aided and abetted those deepening the EU’s legitimation crisis.  Now that Brexit is done, we have an opportunity to assess some of these secondary effects in the UK and in the EU.

In the UK, we have already seen the manner in which the EU’s vaccine debacle has given Boris Johnson a magnificent boost. On the economic front, Brexit removed from Brussels any impediments to the causal suspension of anti-trust rules, which has aided French and German conglomerates. The negative repercussions for their British competitors are about to be felt in the UK.

[See also: How Brexit changed us: The Tory party is almost unrecognisable now]

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In the EU, one word symbolises Brexit’s unexpected secondary ill-effects: Nissan. One of the arguments made by those of us who argued against Leave was that companies such as Nissan would divest from the UK and build up their productive capacity on the continent. We were wrong! Instead of diverting investment to its factories in Barcelona, France and Romania, Nissan decided to do the opposite by turning its Newcastle plant into its European battery manufacturing plant.

Such examples of secondary effects, which neither Leavers nor Remainers acknowledged, underpin Brexit’s broader negative repercussions for the UK and the EU. On the UK side, Brexit has solidified Tory dominance and magnified the cost of progressive division. As for the EU, Brexit has allowed its inane establishment to luxuriate in the offensively erroneous belief that the EU is getting stronger and better at handling its perpetual political and economic crisis.

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This article is from our “How Brexit changed us” series, marking five years since the referendum.