Conventional wisdom holds that the EU will be able to press on towards further integration after Brexit. This view however ignores the political and national divisions present in the EU 27, as well as the anxiousness that is likely to build in Brussels post-Brexit argues Oliver Dunn of Get Britain Out.

While a vast amount of commentary has speculated about what post-Brexit Britain might look like, far fewer column inches have been devoted to thinking about the challenges an EU without the UK might face, and correspondingly, what this would mean for the UK. Europhiles speak confidently about the bold federal future which awaits the EU once the UK has left, and typically regard the UK as having acted as a roadblock to further EU integration. They argue the Eurosceptic British were never fully committed to the EU and the UK has held back integration through their demands for re-negotiation, opt outs and economic liberalisation.

However, such an attitude is not reflected by everyone on the Continent. Jan Zielonka, Professor of European Politics at Oxford University, recently wrote for pro-EU media platform Open Democracy: “Brexit will not solve any of the EU’s current problems; it will only add new ones”. However, what are the problems predicted to befall the EU after Brexit and how will this affect the UK?

The biggest problem the EU will face after Brexit is its own anxiousness and insecurity. After Brexit, the EU will have less economic weight and the whole episode has clearly shaken Brussel’s political confidence. Eurocrats and their allies are very much aware of the EU’s weakened state and the fact they will face all the same challenges they do now, post-Brexit: revitalising the stalling eurozone economy; securing its external border; and seeing off the substantial challenge of anti-EU parties and governments across all Member States.

The heightening of the already palpable sense of unease and uncertainty pervading Brussels is dangerous. This could be because there is a very real possibility it will cause Brussels to pursue integration out of fear of more countries trying to Leave. Post-Brexit, an anxious EU – acting from a place of weakness – may push too hard or too fast by demanding mandatory participation in a singular eurozone economic policy, despite significant opposition from Member States. Such developments are likely to be cheered on by Europhiles who regard ‘more Europe’ to be a solution to every problem facing the EU.

Amongst the cheerleaders for further integration will be familiar faces, such as Guy Verhofstadt, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, and new ones such as the new President of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen and Margrethe Vestager, the new Commission Vice-President for Europe Fit for the Digital Age. So, the fear of EU disintegration could mix with a strong desire for more integration to create a cocktail which leads to the EU overextending in order to form a federalist super state. The risks to the EU of overplaying its hand are not just of failed integration, but a heightened state of political and national division to the extent the stability of the Euro or even of the whole EU is brought into question.

Political divisions are likely to present themselves post-Brexit because the European ‘Left’ see Brexit as a chance to move the EU towards the Left on taxation, regulation and spending, as Britain was always the key free market power, along with Germany. This shifting of the balance of political power towards the Left would isolate the free-marketers in Europe and risk heightening the feeling in richer countries about their being left to pick up the bill.

This could lead to heightening Euroscepticism at precisely the time the EU needs unity to pursue its goal of ‘ever closer union’. Another one of the most commonly imagined challenges to the EU would be, with the UK gone, the increased power of Germany and France to the extent, smaller nations would feel irrelevant to the end goals of the ‘European Project’, with Brussels, Berlin and Paris dictating to the rest of Europe.

What does this all mean for the UK? In the short term it could make it possible – providing Boris Johnson’s Deal makes its way through Parliament – the EU may want to get the next stage of negotiations over as quickly as possible, so they can address some of the challenges identified above. This means the EU could be prepared to offer a looser economic relationship more readily than other commentators are predicting.

Whilst it is true the EU will seek to try and burden the UK with ‘level playing field provisions’, there will nevertheless be intense pressure to ‘Get Brexit Done’ on both sides of the Channel, because both parties will want to move on to face other challenges. The EU will clearly continue to try and prevent the UK from gaining an economically competitive advantage after Brexit, as has happened time and again. However, their resolve may falter in the face of the possibility of the UK leaving without a trade deal in place come December 2020. In the longer term once we Get Britain Out of the EU, the anxiousness felt by Brussels about the possible collapse of support for their European vision, is likely to result in the EU’s focus shifting away from Brexit in particular and the UK in general. Brussels shifting its gaze away from the UK is made more likely by the leadership of Vestager and van der Leyen, who are both committed to further integration, whatever the cost.

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