LONDON – This past year changed everything, except how governments think. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the pre-negotiations for Brexit. With both sides ignoring the far-reaching implications of Donald Trump’s election as US president – namely, the decline of the liberal world order – the process seems set to produce a tragedy for the United Kingdom and the European Union alike.
Judging by the behavior of British Prime Minister Theresa May’s diplomats, one might believe that Brexit is the only real uncertainty nowadays. Indeed, they seem convinced that their only imperative – beyond protecting the unity of the Conservative Party, of course – is to secure as many benefits for the UK as possible.
Because the government’s Brexit negotiators are assuming that they can count on continued global growth, they are focused on securing a bigger piece of the pie for the UK. And because they also assume that the liberal international economic order will endure, they expect that, once “liberated” from the shackles of the EU, the UK will find eager partners with which to sign trade deals. Finally, the Brexiteers seem unconcerned about the security implications of going it alone, because they assume that the United States will maintain its role as global policeman, not to mention continued protection from NATO.
That’s a lot of assuming. But the British are not alone in thinking that nothing has changed. In Brussels, EU institutions – and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in particular – still regard a Brexit-triggered Euroskeptic domino effect as the biggest threat to the Union.