Withdrawing from Galileo: Brexiteers acting as if we are being expelled from the EU

Why is it that some of the Brexiteers are acting with the stridency and anger that would be appropriate if the UK were being expelled from the EU? Is this a tacit recognition that what they have got is not, in fact, what they were asking for?

The latest example concerns the UK’s departure from the Galileo satelite navigation system.

Former Science Minister, David Willetts, was strident on the Today programme, which was picked up with predictable force by The Express. His point is that the UK has already contributed a great deal to this, both in terms of money and technological skill, and would be willing to pay for continued participation.

But there is a rub. Part of Galileo will deliver satellite navigation which is available generally, but part of it will include encrypted resources for military use. After Brexit (if it happens) the UK would be a “third nation”, outside the EU. It would be crazy to think that the EU would be willing to share its defence facilities with a “third nation”, except in the sense tat a nation might share some things with allies in NATO. To give away core defence capabilities would, and should, provoke the same horror and anxiety as if (say) the UK handed over its defence capabilities to the USA.

At the heart of this is the fact that one of the core functions of a state is defence. In the referendum campaign, there was a claim that an EU army was being created, which mobilises all sorts of fears about being “invaded” (at least emotionally), but had little to do with reality.

Where reality does kick in is that, from the vision of the Coal and Steel Community which led to the Treaty of Paris, the European project has been about creating enough interdependence among European nations to mean that we can’t go to war with each other. The logic was that treaties can be broken, but a deeper connection guarantees peace. If a nation chooses to pull out of that, the other should be a little cautious. Put bluntly, seeking to leave means that we are not committed to remaining within the EU and its ideals. The EU is right to say that we can’t hope to remain in the defence parts of Galileo.

But Galileo is part of what has come to be called “pooled sovereignty”. Brexit puts us outside that. There is no reason for the Brexiteers to complain, unless it is not what they want.

The point here is that the EU is not a nation state. It is something new (and exciting). For people to project onto it the fears that would be appropriate if we were being taken over by another nation state is to fail to recognise what it is. In the anger at our seeming to be excluded, my sense is that people are recognising that it is something other, and that we lose out by excluding ourselves. It is to begin to half-articulate the gap between the reality of the EU that we would be daft to leave, and the fantasy of an invading power that it has never been. That Brexiteers ever saw it as this says a great deal about the uncomfortable imperialist fantasies which they are carrying, and projecting onto the EU rather than facing.

For years the UK has had a host of opt-outs. European partners have (rightly) expressed frustration at “Europe à la carte”, because all the aspects of the European project work together.

At the very least, Brexiteers need to stop moaning about being excluded, when they have sought that exclusion. At best, we should recognise that the fears and fantasies leading people to support Brexit have little to do with the EU, and are best addressed by stopping the Brexit process, and looking at what led to the pressure for it.

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