As the United Kingdom prepares to vote in a referendum as to whether to stay in the European Union or leave, it is pertinent to examine how any change is likely to affect the UKs relationship with Nigeria and other African allies.
Whilst this might seem to be a purely British or European affair, throughout European history, competition between European powers has had a devastating effect on Africa from the Berlin Conference to the First World War which devastated East Africa or the Second World War which took hundreds of thousands of Africans to fight people with whom they had no quarrel.
Even in modern time EU policies such as he EU Common Agriculture Policies has a negative effect on African agriculture industry.
In order to do so we must understand the UKs current relationship with Europe and the EU, Africa and Nigeria
UK and Europe:
The UKs relationship with Europe is dictated by its geography and history. The British Isles lie off the coast of Northwest Europe, 35km north of France at is closest point, with Belgium and the Netherlands to the south east, Denmark and Germany to the east, Norway to the northeast and Ireland to the west.
The British Isles were populated by Celtic, Pictic and indigenous tribes organised in clans, chiefdoms and Kingdoms were generally in conflict with each other and were invaded and colonised by European tribes and kingdoms (Romans, Saxons, French, Danes and Norwegians) who exploited the differences between the various clans and kingdoms in their conquests and occupations.
English Kingdoms in the south and Scottish Kingdoms in the north unified local tribes to resist invaders particularly the Danes, however English unity was ironically finally achieved by the successful invasion of Normans from France. Repeated conflict between the English and Scottish Kingdoms were resolved by unifying their crowns and parliaments and finally both Kingdoms in 1707. Union with the Kingdom of Ireland in 1800 secured the western flank.
Once the British Isles were unified under a single government the threat from Europe was more manageable as European invaders had to cross the English Channel, Bay of Biscay or North Sea and fight to gain a foothold as well as maintain their lines of communications, thus any opposing power needed not just a powerful Army but fighting ships to transport, protect and sustain it.
By building a strong Navy the UK could not only deter such foes but engage in expeditionary warfare on the continent and beyond as well as protect their own merchant shipping and raid the merchants of rivals.
Thus British strategy in relation to Europe from the 18th century onwards could be summarised as ensuring that no European land power or coalition of land powers was ever sufficiently dominant or secure enough on the continent to devote the time and resources needed to build a navy that could challenge Britain’s Royal Navy. This was done by using an evolving series of tools such as trade deals, coalitions, alliances, diplomacy, espionage, subterfuge, economic warfare including embargoes, piracy and smuggling and at critical points, military force with the deployment of the small but professional British Army as the nucleus of an allied coalition.
For most of the 18th century the dominant European land power was France, whom the UK countered with all the tools above up to and through the French Revolution until the defeat of Napoleon. As French revolutionary ideals permeated Europe in the 19th century, independence, revolutionary and republican movements occupied European powers giving the UK had little need to militarily intervene in Europe until the Crimean war, in which the UK allied with France against the Russians to prevent Russian domination of Ottoman possessions.
After the Franco-Prussian War of 1871 the dynamics of continental Europe changed as the victorious Prussians created a united German Empire and the old Austro Hungarian, Russian and Ottoman Empires weakened. Germany became the dominant European land power disrupting the UKs attempt to balance European powers with treaties and alliances of mutual cooperation under the Concert of Europe eventually leading to a military conflict (the Great War) in which a coalition of France, UK, Russia and their allies were engaged in conflict with a coalition of Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire and their allies. Whilst the war originated between Austria Hungary and Serbia for fairly pointless reasons it was in essence a conflict where the great European powers acted to attempt to rebalance power on the continent. Germanys defeat and then re-emergence as the powerful and expansionist 3rd Reich led to another military intervention (the Second World War) 25 years later, in which France and the UK allied with the Soviet Union and USA and eventually defeated the Axis alliance of Germany, Italy and other European states.
With the defeat of Germany and devastation of France, the dominant European land power occupying Central and Eastern Europe was Russia/ the Soviet Union. The UK entered into another system of alliances (NATO) bringing all Western European powers under a unified military structure as well as guaranteeing the involvement of the tremendous military, industrial and financial strength of the USA.
The UK deliberately cultivated a ‘special relationship’ with the US acting as the conduit between the New World and the Old. This role again fulfilled the UK strategy of playing allies and adversaries against each other, sweetened from time to time by the deployment of military forces as part of coalition, however unlike in the past, the UK was no longer the leader or coordinator of these alliances.
Following the Second World War the 2 major European land powers; France and Germany having been at war 3 times in the last 70 years, theorised that by integrating their economies they would ‘make war unthinkable and materially impossible’. This was actualised with the European Coal and Steel Community (ECSC) in 1951, which unified the 2 countries Coal and Steel industries. The European Economic Community (EEC) of France, West Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, Holland and Belgium formed in 1958 as an economic union permitting free trade and common tariffs between member states. The UK joined in 1973 after its first two applications to join were blocked by France in 1963 and 1967.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Europe was for the first time in decades free from the risk of the usual cycle of great power conflicts. Whilst war in the former Yugoslavia denied Europe complete peace it did not involve conflict between great powers as before. The Maastricht Treaty in 1993 transformed the EEC into the EU adding a political dimension to the economic community. It currently has 28 countries, of which 26 have freedom of travel between member states under the Schengen Agreement (except UK and Ireland). The European Economic Area consists of all EU countries and Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. Switzerland as a member of none has negotiated bilaterally for its citizens to have the same rights as EU members.
Thus as can be seen the EU from a UK perspective is the natural successor of the series of alliances, treaties, trade deals and other methods that the UK has used throughout history to influence the balance of power on the continent. In this context the referendum debate can be seen as either as an intra-party dispute gone out of hand or a Decision Point at which the UK evolves its tools of engagement with the continent, in light of changing global and continental circumstance.
The Referendum specifically asks “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” we will examine both choices.
If UK votes to remain it will be a vindication for the established parties and their pro EU wings. It is likely there will be a series of internal reshuffles as prominent Brexiters either resign or are ‘moved on’.
This could either empower the newer parties such as UKIP with seasoned, competent politicians or else saddle them with big names who overshadow younger activists.
The reaction of anti EU groups such as UKIP, EDL etc will also be interesting, as it is likely to result in infighting and factionalism for a period preventing them from reorienting themselves to build a strong showing for the next round of local, national or EU elections. The worst case scenario would be that extremist elements refuse to accept the results and engage in a campaign of mob or vigilante violence against perceived enemies.
A leave vote redefines the nature of the UK’s relationship with the EU.
There are several types of relationships that European countries have with the EU, there are 28 full members and 4 members of the European Free Trade Association who are part of the European Economic Area (EEA) but not the EU and Switzerland who has much of the same rights and privileges of EEA members obtained by separate bilateral trade deals. There are multiple scenarios as to how the UK would negotiate its exit but it is likely to be a hybrid of the Swiss/ EEA model, which gives access to the trade and customs union and visa free travel, but retains sovereignty in terms of defence, foreign policy and justice.
The UK however would be in a unique position of being the only major European power outside the EU decision making mechanism, the only former international imperial power, the only power with colonies (or Overseas Territories) and its own grouping of 53 countries with its head of State as leader (The Commonwealth).
However the world’s 5th largest economy would be balanced against a trading bloc that together constitutes the world’s largest economy and contains 3 in the top 10. All these factors mean the UK’s relationship with the EU will be much different to all the others on the outside.
The EU will not only be dealing with a friendly economy but a potential rival, a country that could theoretically act as a convenient outlier (like Switzerland) or could potential be the nucleus of a rival trade group of Commonwealth countries and weaker EU nations such as Greece, Portugal, or Spain who might wish to take their chances outside as well.
In place of the overarching Lisbon Treaty the UK will need to negotiate a series of bilateral agreements with the EU and member states. In order to form a counter balance to the dominant European continental powers of Germany and France it is likely that the UK will seek to exploit its dominant position in NATO to forge closer ties with the Baltic states as well as Central and Eastern European states. These countries however are frontline states with a resurgent Russia, who will be looking for strong commitments from allies (the type of commitments that took the UK into the First and Second World War).
Thus the relationship will depend very much on how the devolution negotiations are handled and who handles them. Inexperienced politicians riding a wave of nationalist anti EU sentiment are likely to lead to an unnecessarily acrimonious separation with unrealistic expectations. Negotiations by more seasoned politician are likely to preside over a prolonged formulaic process that will frustrate the more vociferous of the Brexiters but mollify the Bremainers.
The Effect on UK -Africa relations
What opportunities or threats are presented to Africa in general and Nigeria in particular in this situation?
Nigeria’s relationship with the UK is a mix of trade, small development aid, mainly focussed on education and health and mainly focused on the north and Niger Delta.
Trade: Brexit could present Nigeria, the AU or ECOWAS with the opportunity to negotiate a free trade agreement with the UK, however this is unlikely especially in the short to medium term as the UK will be focussed on renegotiating its various trade agreements in Europe. Nigeria’s main exports would be petroleum products and agricultural produce, the former is already traded on the open market and whilst withdrawal from the Common Agricultural Framework of the EU might open opportunities for African produce, these gaps are more likely to be filled by the more established markets of the Americas or Asia. However an opportunity exists for to negotiate limited trade deals with the UK.
Defence engagement and military assistance: the UK has training facilities for the British Army in Kenya and works closely with former colonies Kenya and Uganda as well training teams in other former colonies such as Malawi, Ghana, Botswana etc as a presence in Somalia and Libya. Defence engagement has greatly increased with the new Nigerian government with expanded training teams in Nigeria and Nigerians training in the UK.
These have mainly focussed on Naval training and Army and NAF training for operations in the North East. Whilst these are likely to continue in the short term post Brexit, in the medium term (after the next election) a new government with either an outright majority by an anti EU party or an anti EU party in coalition with one of the established parties, would most likely require a cut in development aid and defence spending, meaning the UK would prioritise the more popular or kinetic operations such as the UK’s commitments to NATO, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Libya etc over Defence Engagement and Military Training Teams in Nigeria or West Africa. For such parties the main defence focus would be on fighting Daesh or the perceived terror threat at home, not supporting the Nigerian government. It is likely therefore that the level of military assistance would gradually be reduced or not replaced and with the next Parliament halted or scaled down.
Development Aid: the UK contributes development aid bilaterally and through the EU, it is likely that this would be reduced particularly if anti EU parties have a strong showing in the next election to the point they force established parties to tack to the right or enter government themselves.
Immigration: whilst Brexit campaigners have focussed on EU migration and claimed that migration from the Commonwealth would be prioritised it is unclear how this would be implemented. A points based system has been suggested but how this is categorised is unsure. Theoretically as an Anglophone nation with a large number of well-educated people, Nigerians should benefit from a genuinely equitable system that focusses on the Commonwealth.
Peace keeping: The EU currently has 15 Peacekeeping operations of which 8 are in Africa, whilst the UK is not lead nation for any land based operation, it still contributes troops and other capabilities to these missions as well as helping defray costs through its contributions to the EU. If Brexit also included a withdrawal from these operations by the UK or a reduction in funding it could have the second or third order effect in Nigeria particularly EU operations in Niger, Mali, Central African Republic, Libya and Somalia, allowing funds, weapons, fighters or knowledge to reach insurgents in Northern Nigeria.
Whilst the referendum evinces strong emotions; the reality of the UKs relationships with continental Europe remains the same, it is simply the mechanism of engagement that will change. It is unlikely that there will be any great changes to EU migration, trade or any of the other headline issues as the free of movement of people, goods, capital and services is fundamental to all treaties between European states and the EU whether they are in or not.
The key change will be the removal of the UK from the European Council which prevents the UK from influencing decisions in Europe. Balanced against the US as it pivots to Asia, a resurgent Russia and China. Powerful BRICS nations such as India and Brazil, it places the UK in a much more difficult position to play is traditional role as balancer of European power.
In the UKs favour the warlike tendencies of European powers have been greatly tempered by an improved standard of living, memories of the devastation of war and reduced defence budgets. Europe’s penchant for fighting itself has been replaced with squabbling in the EU, sports and a preference for greater travel especially amongst the young.
The strategic imperatives of the UK will not change if the UK leaves the EU, only the tools by which she accomplishes her goals, in a more complex, interconnected and aware world these tools will be greatly stretched trying to rebalance the UKs key strategic relationships, leaving very little time or attention for African or Nigerian interests particularly if these are not pursued aggressively.
Brexit presents a key Decision Point for the UK if they vote to Leave, relations with Africa will be secondary however the effects are unlikely to be.