The Possible Effects of Brexit
Dr Klearchos Kyriakides
Director, ERPIC Rule of Law and Democracy Program
I have been asked to say a few words about the agreement on the withdrawal of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from the European Union and the European Atomic Energy Community. This agreement has been presented to the Parliament of the United Kingdom on the 26th of November 2018. What this means is that the agreement is subject to approval by the House of Commons and the Houses of Parliament, of which the House of Commons forms a part, in line with the constitutional procedures of the United Kingdom. I don’t want to say too much about this agreement because it’s 599 pages-long. So let me just make five very general comments about this agreement and its implications for the Eastern Mediterranean generally, but more specifically the Republic of Cyprus.
What has happened with the United Kingdom’s decision to trigger the process of withdrawal is that they’ve opened the Pandora’s Box and when the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom triggered the process on the 29th of March 2017, she failed to apply the basic principle of Aesop, which is to look before you leap. What has now happened is that the United Kingdom is on the verge of exiting the European Union on the 29th of March 2019 in extraordinary circumstances. By all accounts, and these accounts may be wrong, the House of Commons is likely to reject the agreement on the 11th of December 2018 when a meaningful vote is going to take place on the floor of the House of Commons, following a debate on the agreement.
Now, if there is a no approval given by the House of Commons, it looks as if the United Kingdom would exit the European Union in the absence of an agreement. And for the United Kingdom to crash out of the European Union in the absence of agreement would cause all sorts of problems for multiple states, multiple commercial actors, and multiple other persons and bodies.
Why is all this of importance to the Eastern Mediterranean? Well, it’s important to the Eastern Mediterranean because this is a case study in how not to go about negotiating agreements and drafting documents. But what the United Kingdom did was they served a notice before they were ready, and after serving the notice which triggered a two-year period for negotiation, they found themselves up against it, and try to cobble together an agreement which would try and satisfy enough people to approve it. And they ended up with an agreement which has been passed by the European Union, but is not being accepted by a large number of people in the United Kingdom.
So, one lesson of this whole sorry saga is that you need to take exceptional care over triggering any processes, especially processes which result in narrow timeframes and extraordinary pressure being put on the parties to negotiate agreements.
A second point I want to make as a result of that initial analysis is that the terminology that’s being deployed in this whole saga is inappropriate. Let me take the very phrase “Brexit”. That phrase is inherently misleading. It’s entered the English language as an alternative, or rather a variation to “Grexit”. That was a word that according to the Oxford Dictionary first came to prominence in 2012 when it looked possible that Greece would exit the eurozone. That phrase has been adopted in the context of the United Kingdom’s proposed exit from the European Union and its current state, which is being on the verge of exiting the European Union. The problem with the phrase “Brexit” is it is inherently misleading for three main reasons. First of all, it’s not Britain alone that is going to exit the European Union. Northern Ireland is going to exit the European Union. The official name of the United Kingdom is the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and it’s often forgotten that Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, but not part of Great Britain. There is a special protocol built into the withdrawal agreement that was concluded a few days ago, which deals with Northern Ireland, and Ireland. And it’s quite interesting that in the relevant pages in the withdrawal agreement, Ireland and Northern Ireland are separated by a slash. And this has caused enormous problems in the United Kingdom for the reasons I won’t go into, because there is a fear that the withdrawal agreement will result in the splintering away of Northern Ireland from the remainder of the United Kingdom. So that’s one very important point that people need to bear in mind that the terminology is misleading and wrapped to mislead.
Related to that, “Brexit” is not just going to affect the United Kingdom and Great Britain part of the United Kingdom. “Brexit”, to use the phrase, is also going to affect Gibraltar which has a special and rather unsettling relationship with Spain. Brexit, to use that phrase again, is also going to affect the two Sovereign Base Areas that are situated on the island of Cyprus and over which the United Kingdom asserts sovereignty.
So for those reasons alone “Brexit” is misleading because the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union is going to result in the dissolution of the protocols from 2003 which were applied upon the accession of the Republic of Cyprus to the European Union on the 1st of May 2004. What this means in practice is that a special protocol has had to be drafted and woven into the withdrawal agreement. I’m not going to go into that protocol in any detail, but it is of huge significance to both the Sovereign Base Areas and the Republic of Cyprus.
This leads me to my next point. That agreement emerged a few days ago in draft form and then it was formally approved on the 25th of November and then presented to the House of Commons on the following day on the 26th of November. Within the agreement is a protocol, this is it’s full name, “The Protocol Relating to the Sovereign Base Areas of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Cyprus.” That protocol did not emerge until it was released in draft form on the 14th of November. And now people like me and a few other academics are no doubt struggling to make head or tail of that protocol in readiness for this vote on the 11th of December in the House of Commons. But the point is that this protocol, of 20 or so pages long, has not been subject to a proper, fair and transparent consultation exercise. And, therefore, if this protocol is introduced on the 29th of March 2019, if it’s approved before then, it will radically alter the arrangements that affect the Sovereign Base Areas on the island of Cyprus. I’m not making any comment in favor or against the Sovereign Base Areas. I’m not making any comment against or in favor of the protocol. I’m merely pointing out that this process that was adopted in relation to the protocol was in my judgment deeply unfair. It should have been subject to proper transparency, so that everybody affected by this protocol could have had a say in its drafting, or at the very least they could have had a say in the decision-making process resulting in the drafting. As it is, this document has been sprung on us almost at the last minute, and that in my judgment is deeply unfair.
The final point I want to make is to just point out what is going to happen geo-strategically. Now irrespective of whether or not there is a withdrawal agreement, the geostrategic situation in Eastern Mediterranean is going to change. Why? I go back to the 1960 treaty framework relating to the Republic of Cyprus and the Sovereign Base Areas and thus the island of Cyprus as a whole. The 1960 treaty framework was put into place at a time when all four of the parties were excluded from the then European Economic Community. Which were those four parties? Most obviously the Republic of Cyprus, but also Greece, Turkey and the United Kingdom.
On 1st of January 1973 the United Kingdom joined the then European Economic Community. The other three parties to the 1960 treaty framework stayed out. And for the next years the United Kingdom was in the unique position of being the only one of the four parties to the 1960 treaties to be in the then European Economic Community.
What happened in 1981? Greece joined the then European Economic Community alongside the United Kingdom. The Republic of Cyprus and Turkey stayed out of the European Economic Community.
Fast forward a few years to the 1st of May 2004, the Republic of Cyprus joins the now European Union. So since the 1st of May 2004, three of the four parties to the 1960 treaties, that is to say the United Kingdom, Greece and the Republic of Cyprus are in the European Union, and Turkey is the only one in the four that is out, although Turkey is officially a candidate country.
On the 29th of March 2019 the United Kingdom is scheduled to exit the European Union. What will therefore happen will be a complete reversal of the situation between 1973 and 1981. The United Kingdom will withdraw from the European Union and Greece and the Republic of Cyprus will remain in the European Union, and Turkey will stay out, albeit as a candidate country. So the dynamics of the 1960 treaty relationship are going to undergo an extraordinary and indeed unprecedented change. In practice, what does this mean? Let me just offer you three practical implications which will be of relevance to the Eastern Mediterranean.
Firstly, the United Kingdom will inevitably withdraw from the decision-making processes in the EU. Therefore, the Republic of Cyprus and Greece will be making decisions in the European Union which could have consequences for both the United Kingdom and Turkey. The consequences for the United Kingdom in a post-March situation could be even more profound if this withdrawal agreement is approved, because this withdrawal agreement is subject to all sorts of provisions that will lock the United Kingdom into a relationship with the European Union. Rather like ex-husbands are sometimes locked into a relationship with ex-wives pursuant to divorce agreement. But we’re going to have an interesting dynamic at play there. Greece and the Republic of Cyprus which will effectively constitute one-fourteenth of the European Union, will be taking decisions which could affect the United Kingdom. There might be an allegation of reverse colonialism there, but that’s a story for another day.
A second implication, of course, is that the United Kingdom will be extracted from the foreign policy, defense, counterterrorism and policing structures that have evolved within the European Union over the last few years. This could actually have adverse implications for the Republic of Cyprus, and perhaps also for Greece. The United Kingdom is an actor in the Eastern Mediterranean through the Sovereign Base Areas and for other reasons, such as the situation in Syria. But what is now going to happen is that Greece and the Republic of Cyprus will be in the European Union tent, dealing with counterterrorism and other related matters from within the tent, but the United Kingdom will be outside the tent. Time will tell whether that actually gives rise to any difficulties or whether there are any agreements reached which will enable the United Kingdom to be indirectly linked to those counterterrorism policing and other structures. But that is a potential cause for concern.
And the final point that I would make is a broader one. The European Union is now going to become even more dominated by Germany. It could also, of course, be on the verge of disintegrating, because of a situation in Italy, Greece and elsewhere. But on the basis that the European Union’s survives the next few years, the British will not be in the European Union from the 29th of March onwards, and what that means is that Germany will become an even stronger actor. The United Kingdom will therefore find it much more difficult to influence what is happening on the European continent, and the United Kingdom might find itself dominated or influenced, at the very least, by developments on the European continent, which might be in the future led to a greater extent than before by Germany. This, of course, will have knock-on effects on the Republic of Cyprus. Here, the United Kingdom has traditionally been in the lead in various different spheres, such as education, such as cooperation with the Cyprus government and so on. But in the future I foresee, and I may be wrong, Germany exercising far more prominent role in the Republic of Cyprus through a mixture of three forms of power: hard power, smart power and soft power. That could have interesting implications which I’m not going to go into now. And having mentioned Germany, I also have to mention France, of course, because where Germany leads, France normally follows. So I expect to see the French to have a much more pronounced role in the Republic of Cyprus in the post March 2019 époque. On that note I close this contribution. Thank you.