Britain has lost the EU. Can it find a role?

Britain has lost the EU. Can it find a role?

“Global Britain” is a fine idea, but it requires hard choices and re-engagement with Europe

The transition is over and Britain is fully out of the European Union. On December 24th the sides agreed on a trade deal. It spares them the even greater upheaval of no deal at all (see Britain section). It is minimal, though, along the lines first signalled months ago. It largely overlooks services and marks the start of endless haggling. And, on British insistence, foreign policy and defence are ignored. Looking across the seas with an estranged continent at its back, a lonesome Britain thus faces a bracing question: what role should it now play in the world?

It is a question the country has grappled with off and on for centuries, and in recent decades British thinking has often been clouded by nostalgia for lost empire and great-power status. Membership of the European club provided an answer of sorts. Britain, as Tony Blair put it, could be a “bridge” between America and Europe, with influence in both Washington and Brussels. Now it must think afresh.

One possibility would be for Britons to accept their country’s diminished status and focus on things at home—becoming a big Denmark, a decent north European place without great-power pretensions. Sure enough, in September 38% of Britons told Ipsos-mori’s pollsters that Britain should “stop pretending it is an important power in the world”; only 28% disagreed.