By Tomáš Tengely-Evans
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Empires are weaker after the shock of Brexit split

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Issue 2510
David Cameron, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Barack Obama at a Nato summit in 2014 - they arent smiling anymore
David Cameron, Nato secretary general Anders Fogh Rasmussen and Barack Obama at a Nato summit in 2014 – they aren’t smiling anymore (Pic: Nato Summit Wales 2014/flickr)

The vote to leave the European Union (EU) last week hasn’t just plunged the Tories and British ruling class into crisis. It has struck a blow against US imperialism and the EU bosses’ club, which imposes austerity across the continent.

The EU is in the midst of a profound crisis and its rulers are desperate to keep their project together. They fear Britain leaving could bust it open. After Britain, who’s next—Italy, The Netherlands, France?

After five years of brutal austerity the EU hasn’t managed to resolve the eurozone crisis. Now the world’s fifth largest economy—the second biggest in Europe—has said it wants to break away from the EU.

Brexit already sent shockwaves through a global economy mired in stagnation and it could make the eurozone crisis flare up again. The EU still needs to maintain links with British capitalism. But desperate to contain the new British disease, its rulers have taken a firm line.

Jean Claude-Junker, the European Commission president, demanded that Britain trigger the Article 50 process of the Lisbon Treaty immediately.

Article 50 would begin two-year long negotiations about the terms of withdrawal, but Britain will be automatically removed if no agreement is reached.

The Tories were hoping for “informal talks” before withdrawal, giving them time to elect a new leader. But German chancellor Angela Merkel has now ruled this out.

This fraught process will amplify their crisis—and Brexit is already causing problems for the EU’s rulers. The US and EU have been negotiating the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would rip up workers’ rights and prise open public services to privatisation.

US president Barack Obama said Britain would join the “back of the queue” for a trade deal with the US if there was a Brexit. Despite some US overtures about future deals, TTIP is already dead for Britain.

Brexit has already scuppered Obama’s hopes of having TTIP signed before he leaves office in January and it could put the whole deal in jeopardy. This is just the thin end of the wedge for US imperialism.


Since end of the Second World War the US has pushed for more European integration. The US needed a stable western European capitalism and a junior partner to help it police its global interests. That’s partly why Obama and the Pentagon urged so strongly for Remain.

Up until now the US also relied on Britain to push its interests within the EU when it was at odds with Germany or France.

But this is about to get a whole lot more difficult. Jim Stavridis, Nato’s former supreme commander in Europe, warned, “The US must face the fact that the UK will likely be less of an effective and reliable partner in global affairs.”

Brexit will further shift the balance of power within the EU towards Germany, which is problematic for the US. As Ben Cardin, the most senior Democrat in the Senate foreign relations committee, said, “Germany will become even more dominant in the EU.

“We have an excellent relationship with Germany, but it will be a challenge for us to deal with the EU, as we don’t have Britain as our interlocutor.”

The US and EU have already come to blows over their imperialist interests. For instance, during the Ukraine crisis the US and Britain pushed for sanctions against Russia, but Germany resisted this because of its business ties.

These sorts of imperialist tensions will come to the fore more, and leave the US without an important and obedient ally in the EU.

This takes place against a broader contradiction. While the US remains the world’s strongest military superpower, it is facing intense economic competition. This isn’t just from rising powers like China, but also from its own imperialist allies such as Germany.

So Brexit piles on pressure while US imperialism faces crises from the Middle East to the South China Sea.

Leaving is a blow to the capitalists and imperialism—but the left must now fight to impose a socialist solution to their crisis.

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