Brexit, the Moral Identity of the EU, and the Return of the International

Late last year, Tony Abbott, the former Australian Prime Minister, was ridiculed for his contribution to the Brexit debate.   Abbott’s article for The Spectator in October, ‘How to save Brexit’ set out the basic point that not being prepared to walk away with no deal weakens the UK’s negotiating position, but then pushed a simplistic vision of the glories of a Britain trading under WTO rules.  So far, so usual edge of plausibility forgettable Brexit dream.

However, it was something he said in a later interview with Brendan O’Neill that caught my attention (the Brexit discussion starts from 47 mins in). In setting out why the EU would never give the UK a good deal he went beyond the usual strategic reasons of discouraging others from leaving, to move on to ‘theological’ territory; because the EU sees itself as a ’morally superior alternative to nation states” leaving is ultimately immoral, a going backwards, an atavistic return to the anarchic world of a warring states system.

This is an astute point I have not seen made that often.  The usual moral framing of the Brexit debate is to do with either sovereignty, or trade and economic impacts.  Yet it is precisely from this belief in the EU’s transcendence of the nation state that the EU derives its moral identity and self-image as a uniquely legitimate international actor. And, it is this self-image that in turn builds leaving into more than a damaging political and economic blow, to become an immoral act. Continue reading “Brexit, the Moral Identity of the EU, and the Return of the International”