News that Minister Todd McClay will be seeking assurances on New Zealand’s trade position from his EU and UK counterparts following the pro-Brexit referendum vote reinforces a predictable focus. As night precedes day, pre-referendum coverage in New Zealand focused on the economic implications of a leave vote. And as day then turns into night, a continuation of the same pattern is to be expected.
But Brexit is going to be a much bigger and wider problem for New Zealand because of what it means for the western commitment to a global order founded on international cooperation. Britain is now set to exit the European Union, which, for all its faults, has been the deepest experiment in voluntary cooperative interstate relations the world has ever seen. In turn an already strained EU has been robbed of one of the five permanent members of the UNSC, and one of its most pragmatic and sensible participants. Despite the efforts of the remaining 27 powers to rally around a flag with one less star, whatever remains of the EU’s aspirations for significant global influence is fast disappearing. Likewise, an already diminished United States has lost its chief EU partner in the promotion of global rules. A major new crack in the trans-Atlantic commitment to sustained international leadership has been opened. And if you think this doesn’t matter, just think for a moment about Syria, Iraq, Iran, Libya, Ukraine, terrorism, nuclear proliferation, human rights, and cyber-security.