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Expert View

Egging on chaos in Italy is not in Britain’s interests

by David Hannay | 30.05.2018

David Hannay is a member of the House of Lords and former UK ambassador to the EU and UN.

The predictability of the reactions of Brexiters and of the substantial proportion of our print media which supports Brexit at any cost to unexpected developments in the EU is a wonder to behold. Just look at their response to the political crisis in Italy. Is it based on an objective analysis of the events? Does it consider carefully what the implications might be for Britain’s interests? Neither is the answer to both questions.

It is simply assumed that, because the proximate cause of the failure of the two populist parties in Italy to form a government was due to the President’s refusal to accept their nomination of a eurosceptic economy minister who had questioned Italy’s membership of the euro zone, this must be an affront to democracy and an interference by Brussels in the Italian political process.

The fact that previous Italian presidents have exercised their constitutional right to object to the appointment of individual ministers and that this has hitherto been accepted by the incoming governments in question is cheerfully overlooked. And, if the outcome of the political turmoil turns out to be damage to the stability of the euro, the Brexiters assume that must be welcome.

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Let us look at the latter proposition. How can it possibly be in the UK’s interest that the currency and the economic stability of the countries which take nearly half of our exports should come under renewed pressure? And, if events in Italy delay the painful progress that the EU is making towards strengthening the euro zone’s banking union, making it more resilient in the event of future crises, is that in our interest? Hardly so.

Are developments in Italy likely to be helpful to us in the context of the Brexit negotiations? Quite the opposite. For one thing the EU 27 are likely to be distracted by these developments, so that Brexit will be even lower in their list of priorities than was previously the case.

And the idea that an Italian government consisting of a coalition of the Five Star Movement and the League would exert itself to get us a better Brexit deal is fanciful in the extreme. More likely such a government would be preoccupied by tensions in its own relationship with the EU and would offset that by hewing to the agreed line on Brexit. And their position on warmer relations with Russia would surely be an immediate source of friction with our own government.

It would be more sensible, surely, to avoid indulging in this sort of wishful thinking, which is little more than clutching at straws; and to face the hard fact that it is for us to find our own way through or out of the Brexit imbroglio. The government’s current failure to do that is not going to be compensated by the appearance of some external deus ex machina.

Edited by Hugo Dixon

One Response to “Egging on chaos in Italy is not in Britain’s interests”

  • Any problems amongst EU member states seem to be eagerly highlighted by Brexiteers as evidence of the EU’s imminent implosion. Aside from the fact that predictions of the EU’s demise have been on-going for many years, and have withstood many crises to date, Brexiteers are then suddenly quite vague as to what would happen after such an implosion.
    The inference is that all the European states would sit down together, agree to trade with one another, and all would live happily ever after in peace and harmony. This is a very unlikley scenario. Far more likely is that the most powerful states in the region would move in to control the vacuum left, and the smaller states would feel obliged to throw in their lot with one powerful state or face being frozen out of trade relationships or indeed military protection. In this context, Russia, being by far the largest state, would take on a new importance in Europe, and indeed, there are already populist politicians in various parts of Europe who seem ready to welcome that.
    So the Brexiteers dream of breaking up the EU, could end up with a new much more dangerous division across Europe. And whilst the EU is by no means perfect, what might follow could be alot less democratic or tolerant and far more of a threat to peace.
    Why do Brexiteers never the get confronted with what the map of Europe would look like after a break up of the EU?