Nikos Mourkogiannis: Brexit, but with what Purpose?

Nikos Mourkogiannis: “Brexit is certain”

Articles regarding Brexit usually focus on the legal side of the story. They analyse whether the referendum’s result will take immediate effect or not, whether it will be legally overturned, and how the new agreement between the European Union and Great Britain will look like, if eventually Brexit happens. In fact, a recent Court decision made a lot of people hope that Brexit can be avoided.

However, Brexit is certain. Any assumption of the opposite is mistaken and is more often than not made by those who do not understand how the constitutional system works in Great Britain or simply are ardent supporters of Bremain. The recent Court decision, which will be probably overturned by the High Court, just forwarded the issue to Parliament. Even if the decision is not overturned by the High Court, Parliament will vote for Brexit, because otherwise the MPs risk losing their seats by voting against the public will. In the unlikely event that a majority in Parliament votes against Brexit, the Government will dissolve Parliament and call for elections that would provide the current Prime Minister a majority favouring Brexit. Therefore, the “divorce” of the UK from the European Union will be issued, and the inclusion of arrangements for the forced coexistence in Europe is of secondary importance.

For Great Britain, however, there are much more important issues. They relate to the country’s strategy and Purpose. Those who consider that Brexit will happen soon are already focusing on the direction that it will take. Will Brexit lead to a new relationship with the European Union, like the one enjoyed by Norway or Switzerland, or to a new relationship with China, or Australia, or even a privileged relationship with India? For Brexit’s most committed fans the best prospect is for the UK to participate together with the US and Canada in a common market of the North Atlantic “lake”. Until recently many in the Bremain camp considered this Winston Churchill’s old idea as totally unrealistic. However, the election of Donald Trump’s election, who publicly promised to Great Britain a preferential treatment and who, unlike Barack Obama, has always been a supporter of Brexit, has given the old idea a momentum.

These thoughts, however, do not centre on what is crucial; they concern strategy. Worse, they concern only commercial strategy, i.e. how Great Britain will trade in the future. Thoughts on strategy always cause many discussions and thus prevent a focus on what is crucial: the Purpose of Brexit. For if the destination of a road trip is not agreed upon, then which exit from the highway a car should take can be a subject of an endless debate among its passengers. Or, as they say in India, when someone does not have a Purpose, he has the impression that all routes can lead him to the Buddha.

Until the referendum, Great Britain had the Purpose of being a model of globalization. Thus, skilled workers and capitalists from all over the world perceived London as the perfect destination. In response to the referendum — and not because of it — Great Britain is now seeking a new Purpose which will inspire the majority of its voters most of whom consider themselves victims of globalization, not just of Brussels.

Nikos Mourkogiannis: “Thoughts on strategy always cause many discussions and thus prevent a focus on what is crucial: the Purpose of Brexit.”

Defining a Purpose that will unite and motivate is not easy and it takes time. Great Britain has the advantage of relative historical experience. When Great Britain ceased to be an Empire, it was transformed into a social welfare state, the Purpose of which was to serve its citizens in ways not seen before. Thirty years later, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister, Great Britain was transformed once again and discovered how a State can promote competitiveness. And, of course, by starting the industrial revolution, it introduced the concepts of economies of scale and efficiency to the national economies

Hence, Great Britain has the pertinent historical experience and understanding of what the concepts of efficiency, service, discovery and excellence are implying in practice. These four concepts define, according to our Western philosophy, the four potential Purposes that can unite humans in states, cities, firms, organizations.

For Great Britain, each one of these Purposes does not simply imply a different strategy for trade and different policies for immigrants, but also a different economy, different values, different state machinery, different social policy, different budget. And, certainly, it implies a different handling of the negotiations with the European Union, a challenge which is urgent but incidental when compared to the Purpose of the country.

Why the British voted for Brexit is now an issue for the historians. For the next three years, the media will cover the meetings and negotiations with the European Union. Undoubtedly, articles on strategic options will not abate. However, the country’s leaders must focus on clarifying Great Britain’s Purpose. In other words, they should do now what ideally should have been done before the referendum.

*Nikos Mourkogiannis was President of Monitor Europe (1995–2005) and he is the writer of «Purpose: The Starting Point of Great Companies».