Brexit: A View from Across the Channel

Commentary by Louis VIS

It has been a bad week for the United Kingdom but it could still get worse. Across the continent, European far-right parties have celebrated Brexit and called for other Member States to follow suit. The international repercussions of Brexit and how these will shape the Brexit negotiations should therefore not be overlooked. In this article, we will analyse what Brexit means for the rest of the European Union, especially France.

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‘Brexit: And Now France’ – By Louis VIS

On Twitter, Marine Le Pen quickly tweeted: ‘Victory for Freedom! As I have been asking for years, we must now have the same referendum in France and EU countries’ before making it clear that ‘Europe will be at the heart of the next presidential election’. In her view, ‘the UK has begun a movement that can’t be stopped… now it’s France’s turn’. Although Boris Johnson and Michael Gove tried to convince voters that the EU needs the UK more than the other way around, they were wrong. First of all, from an economic point of view, the percentage of UK trade going to the rest of Europe is far greater than its opposite. Furthermore, such a narrow-minded view of the problem complete ignores other external forces. Indeed, with France and Germany both holding general elections in 2017, political leaders in both countries will not have the time or the luxury to give the UK concessions. It is thus highly unlikely that the UK will get away Scot-free. Whilst Merkel called for calm after the referendum, this does not mean she wants to let the UK off the hook. Not to mention that French politicians were quick to voice their discontent with the result. Hours after the results were confirmed, the Mayor of Calais called for the UK to take its border back to Dover and thus deal with migrants on English soil. Later, Alain Juppé, who will stand for the Presidential nomination of the ‘Parti Républicain‘, made it clear that should he win, he would not hold a referendum on the France’s EU membership. With polls expecting Marine Le Pen from the Front National to make it through to the second round of France’s Presidential elections next year, it could mean that, depending on who the French decide to elect as their next President, voters will also vote on whether they wish to remain in or leave the European Union.

FN leader Marine Le Pen Credit  Blandine LC (Creative Commons BY)
Marine Le Pen at a Front National (FN) campaign event – by Blandine LC, licensed under CC BY 3.0

Although referendums are illegal in Germany, Brexit negotiations will undoubtedly dominate discussion during the country’s general elections in 2017. Thus, whilst Germany may take a more moderate position in the Brexit negotiations, the French will pressure their European colleagues to stand their ground. The sad reality is that in order to prevent Marine Le Pen from growing in strength, France has to make sure everything goes wrong for the UK. It is also why politicians from other Member States want the UK to stop procrastinating and trigger Article 50 as soon as possible. Only then will mainstream politicians from across Europe regain credibility. A difficult divorce between the UK and the EU is seen by many as the only way to weaken far-right and anti-establishment parties. Let it be clear, should Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon be triggered by British politicians, the county will be in for a rough ride. One which we consciously chose to get on.

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