Coronavirus won’t kill off the high price of Brexit and ‘nostalgic nationalism’


The joint Brexit committee – composed of EU and UK representatives – had its first teleconference on March 30, and reportedly boasted a “constructive and productive atmosphere”. That was the word from European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič, committee co-chair with the UK’s Michael Gove. Despite the cheeriness, it’s true that Brexit negotiations have been sickened by Covid-19 crisis. Even so, the Brexiteer spirit appears still to be high. What will this mean for Britain when this is over?

It’s very hard to say. On March 30, the European People’s party, the main centre-right group in the European Parliament, called for an extension of the UK’s Brexit transition period. Of course, there’s little to show that Prime Minister Boris Johnson is listening, or indeed, members of his governing Conservative Party.

In fact, Britain’s former Brexit czar David Davis has suggested that separation from the European bloc will be easier for the UK post-pandemic. Mr Davis argues that supply chains between the UK and Europe will already have been disrupted. There’s some logic in that. But it’s equally logical to expect that post-pandemic too, Britain will suffer the ill-effects of its “nostalgic nationalism”.

Not too long ago, Edoardo Campanella, Future of the World Fellow at the Centre for the Governance of Change of IE University in Madrid, offered a non-partisan view perspective on Britain’s “nostalgic nationalism”. Even though he admitted that “nostalgic nationalism…extends far beyond the UK”, Mr Campanella said it posed a unique and possibly irreversible threat to the UK.

With Prime Minister Johnson and his inner circle continuing “to leverage history to exaggerate the UK’s true power”, a delusion continues to be spread as gospel, Mr Campanella said. It is “deluding (British) citizens into believing that restoring a modern version of the British Empire is within reach”.

It is a “fantasy”, he adds, but one that Mr Johnson might be able to sustain for a bit. Ultimately, though, nostalgia is like all other emotions and “tends to dissipate over time”. That’s when, Mr Campanella noted, “the British will no longer be able to ignore reality: a glorious past cannot exist in an ordinary present”.

Then, he said darkly, It will be difficult for the UK to replicate the deep ties it’s had with the European bloc for four decades and there will be challenges to the UK’s political integrity.

As for Brexiteers themselves, they don’t see Mr Johnson’s vision of an outward-looking Global Britain as the Little England they thought they were getting. Dissatisfaction all the way round then?

Hard to say, but it’s possible. Post-pandemic too.