One of the most galling aspects of Brexit, particularly for those of us who devoted significant portions of our lives to promoting UK interests and policies in the EU: Britain was actually very successful and significant in shaping the European Union.
In my own areas, International Development, Eastern Europe, and Enlargement, the UK consistently led policy development.
In Development, from Clare Short🗳️ to Justine Greening🗳️, the UK looked to turn an often slow-moving and spending-based EU development apparatus and processes into a more dynamic setup focussed on reform for poverty reduction, and on results and outcomes.
In fact, it looked to turn the EU development apparatus into a mirror image of its own, but with the comparative advantages that the European Union brought for its work.
Britain was, along with some other important Member States, very successful in this. It made the world’s largest aid donor more effective.
In Enlargement and Eastern Europe, Britain drove the process of the EU’s enlargement to include ex-Warsaw Pact countries into the EU, against plenty of scepticism from many other Member States. You can argue that it did this out of a desire to weaken France and Germany in the EU, and that’s fine, but it also did it because it was the right thing to do for the whole continent. And it was.
The UK also, along with many in the Commission and several other Member States, saw that Enlargement risked drawing new dividing lines, and was central to establishing the European Neighbourhood Policy to avoid that, and promote democratic reform to the East of the EU.
Britain was also significant in driving the move from the EU’s position on the Western Balkans being just about peace there, to being about EU membership as a route to and framework for continuing peace in the region.
I don’t want to re-write a history where Britain is cast as always being a progressive force for good in the EU that always got what it wanted. That’s not the point here.
The point is that, in many areas that are important to the UK and the EU, the UK did shape EU policy significantly. This not only amplified the UK’s policy impact significantly, but in many areas helped make the EU more effective, and in some way also made the world a bit better.
That’s gone now, and, frankly, it’s not obvious at all that anyone should want this government’s policies influencing anyone or being amplified in any way.
But, without the politicians from both sides’ silence at the fear of what a couple of newspapers might say about them, people in the UK could have been pleased with the role their government played in many areas of the European Union, and the impact that had on the world more widely.
Instead though, we will have a UK that is diminished in influence in every way (it already is in most!), struggling to be heard on the big issues facing the world and Europe this century.
That is not something to be proud of, and it is not what the thousands who have worked for years on behalf of the UK in the EU worked for. Very far from it.🔷
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(This piece was first published as a Twitter thread and turned into the above article with the purpose of reaching a larger audience. It has been minorly edited and corrected.)