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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On the other side of the debate, although they are campaigning against almost everything their opponents stand for, the advocates for Britain to leave the EU are actually arguing within the same context of globalization. The difference is that for Brexit advocates, the EU is an obsolete organization, a product of the Cold War in the West camp against the East, obstructing instead of facilitating Britain nowadays in its efforts to rise to become a first class world power. Outside the EU, free from the confining rules and binding agreements with other EU members, Britain can perform with increased flexibility, reaching out to other possible partners. Still an active member of the Security Council, the IMF, the World Bank, the G20, and the NATO, a Britain without the EU is far from being isolated. Rather, it can construct other platforms for international cooperation of its own, on which it will play a leading role. A revived Commonwealth coalition is one of the possibilities.

In Brexit advocates' opinion, Britain's relationship with major European countries won’t be undermined by its leaving the EU. History has proved that the EU's performance during the three waves of globalization is quite lame. The first wave of globalization was that of commodities, which was crystallized in the role played by the WTO while the EU did nothing more than passing on the WTO policies to its members.

The second wave of globalization was that of capital and the financial crisis in 2008 and proved that staying in the EU has attenuated rather than strengthened Britain's ability to confront the risk.

We are now facing the third wave of globalization, that is, the global migration of people. The recent immigration crisis that has almost toppled the European continent and the EU's ineffectiveness in taking actions makes it look more like a cause of problems than a solution to them.

To Brexit advocates, the EU is stuck in its own troubles without momentum for change and Britain may provide that momentum by leaving it.

All in all, whether to leave or to stay, Britain definitely bears a grand vision for its future role in world politics. Vision alone, however, is not enough. Britain also needs to take action and jump at the chances presented to it. Whether that's a revived Commonwealth or more engagement in Africa and Asia Pacific, Britain should be ready to drop the condescending attitude inherited from its past glory, going beyond the Eurocentric mindset so as to follow the trend of a multi-cultural world as a result of globalization. Now is the high time for British pragmatism.

The author is assistant researcher at The Centre for British Studies, Shanghai International Studies University.

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