Ambassador Casson's Optimistic Take on Brexit

According to UK Ambassador John Casson, Brexit is indicative of a larger shift in how nation-states will operate in a more globalized 21st-century world and in people’s conception of the nation-state.

“We [the UK] were a laboratory for the Industrial Revolution,” he said. “We were the laboratory for post-colonial states, and now we’re going to be the laboratory for the renewal of the nation-state.”

Speaking at AUC in a lecture titled “Brexit and the Future of Europe,” Casson shed an optimistic light on Brexit and discussed its potential effects within Britain, Europe and the Middle East, specifically outlining Egypt’s place in this international conversation.

Understanding Brexit

Casson explained that, at the time of formation of the European Union, there was a sense that nation-states were fundamentally too weak and in need of an entity to empower them. More recently, in the case of Britain, the population began to feel that a democratic gap was forming and that their identity was not being appropriately represented.

The issue of the migration of European Union nationals into Europe was at the core of Brexit, Casson explained. Between 2005 and 2016, the proportion of the British population that was foreign-born increased to 14 percent, with more than 3 million additional foreigners. According to Casson, there were many within the British community who felt that this pointed to a loss of control on the side of the British government. The vote on Brexit presented a chance for the British people to respond to this growing identity gap between the people and decisions being made at the level of the European Union.

Moving Forward After Brexit

Placing Brexit within a long global history dating back to the emergence of civilizations,  the ambassador addressed concerns regarding the state of the global economy after Brexit. The central issue, he emphasized, will be to ensure the success of the process.

Casson based his hope on two key observations of Britain: that it has a strong foundation in terms of the international networks available to it and that its economy has proven strong in recent years. Casson highlighted that it is in every country’s interests that Britain succeed economically in this process.

Visualizing the Future of the European Union

As Britain prepares to leave the European Union, Casson affirmed that it will remain a European country in every sense. “We are European in our history, culturally, religiously, historically, economically and geographically,” he said. “We share a space with Europe.” He hopes that people will continue to perceive Britain as a point of access to Europe.

With regard to the future of the European Union, its “reform agenda is more urgent and pressing than before,” Casson noted. This marks an ideal moment to address its challenges of governance, democracy and economy. “We want to see the European Union succeed as our close neighbor and partner,” Casson added.

Situating Egypt and the Middle East

The Middle East and North Africa are witnessing a moment that is revealing a weakness in its old political and economic structures. In terms of the impact this will have on Egypt, however, the direct effects will be minimal and contained, Casson predicted.

In terms of Egypt, he pointed to the “resilience, depth and longevity” of the country’s institutions as advantages in starting this process of renovation. The only element that will need to be tackled is the establishment of a new bilateral agreement to replace an agreement regarding tariff free trade in agricultural exports and industrial exports. Casson explained that Britain remains committed to supporting the renewal of Egypt, with regard to its economy, security and democratic governance. He also sees this as an opportune moment for Egypt to take the lead in developing a new model of the nation-state.

Closing on a confident and promising note, Casson affirmed that Brexit signifies a chance for Britain to reassert itself as an “open-facing, international-facing” country. As it begins to redefine itself as a nation-state, the door opens to strengthening relationships with countries outside of the 28 European Union members and for Britain to further bolster its relationship with Egypt in particular.