Brexit debate hinges on Britain's grand vision for its role in the world

Updated: 2016-06-21 16:16

By Zhu Xinxian(

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Brexit debate hinges on Britain's grand vision for its role in the world

Photo taken on Jan 29, 2016 shows the UK and EU flags outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. [Photo/Xinhua]

With the Brexit referendum around the corner, supporters on both sides are accelerating their campaigns for or against the motion, leading to a heated debate that is sweeping across not only the British Isles but pretty much the whole Western world. In terms of foreign policy making, the debate can be boiled down to one question: is the EU still relevant to a Britain that aspires to assert itself more on the world political arena, tired of being ranked as a second class power? To put it another way, in the context of globalization in the present day, is the EU facilitating or obstructing Britain's efforts to obtain future world leadership?

Trying to clarify this question, the Foreign Affairs Committee reviewed the costs and benefits of EU membership for the UK's role in the world, so there can be a better understanding of both side's arguments. While reviewing the evidence, the two speakers who argued for Britain to stay in the EU traced it back to the establishment of the organization as a framework that has transcended national borders to bring about concerted political actions and an extended free market. Within this framework, Britain gain the following benefits:

Top on the list of benefits for Britain to stay is support that the organization may provide for Britain. According to advocates on this side, Britain and other major members like France and Germany have more in common than differences which renders the EU as a launching pad for Britain's larger role in world affairs. The EU's performance in solving the Iranian nuclear problem and imposing sanctions on Russia has provided precedents to prove this. To drop out of the EU is to retreat from the front stage of world politics and to isolate itself on purpose. Britain should not overestimate the influence it is capable of exerting worldwide, which will be considerably reduced if it leaves the EU.

Apart from the support it can depend on in participating in world affairs, Britain within the EU has an upper hand in navigating the organization on a course that will suit its needs. By wielding veto power, Britain can forestall policies it doesn’t want since unanimous votes are required for the EU to pass any act or to take any action as a whole. As a result, Britain has nothing to fear in staying in the EU.

As for the issue of sovereignty, which constitutes the main argument on the Brexit side, if Britain is capable of changing the EU by pushing forward the EU reform that will lead to an institution that is more democratic and responsive, sharing sovereignty is not too bad an idea in an increasingly globalized world. Rather, it is necessary in the face of challenges on a global scale. It will be unwise for Britain to give up the stakes it has in hand now and to slide into becoming an isolated nation going nowhere.

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