Analyzing and forecasting the Gulf Cooperation Council's geopolitical environment

What does Brexit mean for the Arab Gulf States?

Dr. Peter Harris
July 11, 2017

In June 2016, the British people voted to exit the European Union—a momentous choice that took the political establishment by almost complete surprise, and which continues to reverberate through British politics. For a brief moment during April-May 2017, it seemed as though Prime Minister Theresa May’s decision to call a snap election over the issue of Brexit might offer an opportunity for the country to rally around a common vision of what future relations with the EU should look like. Yet the unexpected result of that election was to strip May’s Conservative party of its parliamentary majority, thus enfeebling the government and calling into question its ability to handle contentious negotiations with the EU. In short, Brexit has thrown Britain’s domestic politics into a state of turmoil and—as of now, at least—there is precious little indication that the tumult and uncertainty will lessen in the months and years to come.

The implications of Brexit will not be confined to the national stage, however. On the contrary, it is unavoidable that withdrawal from the EU will spell great changes in terms of Britain’s foreign policy. As with the unfolding domestic drama, it is impossible to know exactly how these international consequences of Brexit will play out. But some things can be known for sure. First, Brexit will empower decision-makers in London to forge new and improved associations with foreign nations, especially in the realms of trade and investment. Second, though, British officials will find themselves in a much weaker bargaining position as they go about exercising these newfound competencies. For the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), these two political realities have the potential to make for very good news.

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Dr. Peter Harris is an advisor at Gulf State Analytics. He is an Assistant Professor at Colorado State University, where his research and teaching focus on International Relations theory, international security, and U.S. foreign policy.