Europe underestimates Britain’s ability to adapt to a post-EU environment.
British prime minister Boris Johnson during a stop on his general election campaign trail at a boxing academy in Manchester on Tuesday. Photograph: Frank Augstein/Getty Images
In Brussels, Brexit is usually presented as a lose-lose game in which the inevitable pain will be spread unevenly. Terminal for the United Kingdom, serious but not life-threatening for the European Union, and potentially requiring a short stay in intensive care for Ireland.
The reality is that the excruciatingly grinding nature of Brexit since 2016 has resulted in a European mindset focused on the implosion of British political norms and the collapse of British influence in Brussels. Feelings reinforced by the almost surreal nature of the current UK election campaign. In comparison, the EU has come to represent a legalistic behemoth – slow-moving but relatively united – a creature destined for steady but unspectacular growth in the decades ahead.
But behind this veneer a more honest appraisal of the impact of Brexit on the EU is beginning to emerge. And deep down, Europe knows her vulnerabilities have never been greater.
Put simply, Europe continues to underestimate British abilities to adapt, and possibly even thrive, in a post-EU environment. Brexit may well be an obscene act of economic self-harm, but that does not preclude the probability that Britain will remain a powerful economic and political actor on the world stage. In so doing, Britain will be a most serious competitor for Europe irrespective of what kind of Brexit actually occurs.
That is why, for Europe to thrive, Brexit Britain must fail (and fail badly).