Although officially the Islamic Republic of Iran has reacted properly to the historic Brexit vote, unfortunately some Iranian politicians and pundits have rushed to judgment by embracing the result, some going as far as portraying it as a “historic opportunity” for Iran, ostensibly because it weakens the European Union and lessens UK’s American dependency.
But, a more isolated and geopolitically-weakened UK is more likely to be US-dependent, rather than “independent,” and it is sheer folly on the part of some Iran analysts to view the xenophobic, anti-immigrant pro-exit politicians in UK as more inclined to defy the US’s will on Iran. In fact, the EU despite its policy coordination with the US, e.g., through NATO, is still a sign of global multilateralism that does not altogether sit well with the national interests of the United States, despite the appearances to the contrary. A weakened and more vulnerable Europe is likely to be more heavily influenced by US’s security dictates and, therefore, it makes no sense for anyone in Iran to be favorable to the demise of EU.
Even a post-exit UK would still be confronted with the same US banking restrictions on Iran and it is highly unlikely that much of anything will change with respect to the implementation of the nuclear accord. In fact, the Brexit weakens the European resolve with respect to the nuclear deal and that poses a potential danger.
Of course, we must wait for the dust to settle to figure out the ultimate significance of the UK vote, that may or may not translate into the country’s actual exit, given the non- legally binding nature of the referendum and the stiff opposition to it in the British Parliament dominated by the opponents of the Brexit, particularly now that the net outcome of the vote in terms of economic self-harm and the downgrading of UK’s business standing is beginning to dawn on the (divided) population. For sure, the exit process will be slow and, at best, will come in stages if at all, and for those pro-exit enthusiasts in Iran that is an important factor to consider.
On a broader level, Iran and the EU are presently in healthy diplomatic relations that are destined to evolve toward greater cooperative directions in the future, given EU’s consent to Iran’s role in the Syria peace process, and this too might suffer as a result of the Brexit crisis engulfing the EU today. At the moment it is unclear if the Brexit phenomenon is confined to UK or will it infect other countries as well, in light of the European far-right’s call for similar referendum in France and elsewhere, so far rebuffed by the French and other governments. Chances are that the majority of Europeans will conclude that the voters in UK have made a historic mistake that ought not to be repeated.
The EU free-trade zone is a major plus for the member states and it is economically irrational for the UK to deprive itself of it, e.g., its auto industry that ships out nearly 60 percent of its 1.5 million cars produced in UK to other EU countries would be definitely harmed, just as its airline and other industries.
Assuming that the tide will turn against the Brexit sooner or later, it would be harmful to Iran’s European diplomacy if the Europeans come to regard Iran as anti-EU. Certainly, that will complicate Iran’s diplomacy and the prudent course of engagement with Europe charted by the Rouhani administration.
This article was written by Kaveh L. Afrasiabi for Iran Review on June 29, 2016. Kaveh Afrasiabi, Ph.D, is a former political science professor at Tehran University and the author of several books on Iran’s foreign policy. His writings have appeared on several online and print publications, including UN Chronicle, New York Times, Der Tagesspiegel, Middle East Journal, Harvard International Review, and Brown’s Journal of World Affairs, Guardian, Russia Today, Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Boston Globe, Mediterranean Affairs, Nation, Telos, Der Tageszeit, Hamdard Islamicus, Iranian Journal of International Affairs, Global Dialogue.