‘Britain fell on its own sword’

| Maarten de Groot

Studium Generale started the new year with a lecture by Caroline de Gruyter, An European Affairs correspondent for NRC. Now that the Brexit saga looks like it’s coming to an end, what lessons can we draw from it? In a full Amphitheater, De Gruyter tried to answer this question.

Short biography

Caroline de Gruyter is a writer for NRC Handelsblad, where she covers topics that have to do with Europe. Next to that, she has a weekly column in the same newspaper and she is part of thinktanks in the field of international relations.

'Don’t ask me what is going to happen now with Brexit. It is such a mess and like everyone, I do not have a single clue what will happen next,’ De Gruyter opened, as a quick disclaimer. ‘I did not predict the referendum about Brexit in the first place, nor did I predict that the Leave camp was going to win. Therefore, I will not predict anything this evening. I will only share the story of how I saw the United Kingdom slowly checking out of the European Union.’

According to De Gruyter, there are two main elements. Firstly, sovereignty in itself is a relative phenomenon and that sovereignty is also very expensive. ‘In a globalized world, countries are reliant on each other: even in Switzerland and Norway, they follow European Union internal market rules.’ However, says De Gruyter: ‘The United Kingdom did not learn this until they had to negotiate with the European Union about leaving.’

Her second lesson on Brexit was that we should be careful with being ignorant about the European Union. According to her, people and politicians in the United Kingdom did not know what the European Union can and what it cannot do. ‘At first glance, the United Kingdom joined the Union because they thought that it would not work. Then, when they eventually got in, they only wanted to seize the economic opportunities by enlarging the European Union.’ However, as De Gruyter pointed out: ‘A bigger European Union is a more political European Union, which eventually made Britain fall on its own sword.’

In the end, De Gruyter summed up the Brexit saga with the following metaphor: ‘The United Kingdom has always liked the role of being the mirror within the European Union, but has now become that mirror itself.’