Many Iranian military and political leaders quickly voiced their optimism and support for Brexit. It seems they agree that the vote was in Iran’s best interests. Immediately after the referendum on June, 23rd, 2016, when the British voters opted to leave the EU, the Iranian foreign ministry couldn’t hide the excitement generated in Tehran surrounds the chaos Brexit has caused by stating, “Iran respects British people’s vote to leave the European Union, and deems it to be in agreement with the will of the majority of the country’s people in regulating their foreign relations”. Deputy chief of staff of Iran’s armed forces, Brig. Gen. Massoud Jazayeri, was quoted after the Brexit vote saying, “Britain must pay the price for years of colonialism and crimes against humanity. President’s political affairs assistant, Hamid Abu Talebi also considered that the Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union is a historic opportunity for Iran, saying, “We should take advantage of this opportunity to our best.”Hamid Abu Talebi wrote on his profile on Twitter, “The British withdrawal from the European Union is a major earthquake that hit Europe, and England now is out of the European Union.”
The Iranian regime had built unrealistic dreams and expectations on the British withdrawal, but soon all those dreams evaporated with the inauguration of the Prime Minister Theresa May.
♦ Iranian regime’s belief in “Divide and conquer” policy
The Iranian excitement about Brexit can be attributed to three motives: First of all, economic and political reasons. The Iranian regime has adopted a policy of aggressiveness and interference in the affairs of neighboring countries that come about through the “divide and conquer” principle. They also hope that Iran could set aside hostility and economic and political restrictions with the EU, in addition to opening up new political and trade talks with Britain at the expense of its trade relations with the rest of the EU countries. This argument sounds persuasive to many Iranians, as the British economy has become under pressure since the vote to leave, in addition to deterioration of the sterling pound, putting the country in a weaker position in negotiations with other countries, including Iran that is willing to maintain positive relations with Britain more than with the other EU countries to recover its worn out economy. According to the Iranians, winning a trade partner means winning a political one in exchange of the largest European-American coalition and its hostility to Iran. The Iranian catastrophic economy is in need for more exploitation and exportation of oil with the help of British giant oil companies such as “BP” and “Royal Dutch Shell” that have the ability to help Iran recover its economy and develop its energy sector.
♦ European Union breakdown and conflict of interests with America is an unrealistic dream
The second motive is the Iranian expectations of the EU breakdown after Brexit as stated by Hamid Abu Talebi. The EU has put Iran under pressure for years because of human rights violations and the nuclear file, but the British withdrawal means that there would be a big change in the political and economic trends of the powers hostile to Iran and its nuclear ambitions. Consequently, Iran could sign individual and separate agreements with those countries including Britain as Iranians believe.
The third motive is the belief that Brexit would create disagreement and conflict of interests between America and Britain since the US denied Brexit and urged Britain to stay as a key member of the EU. However, both countries enjoy historical ties, and common economic and political interests. They also play a major role in the balance of powers in the world and are the biggest members of NATO that can’t be broken by Brexit. The evidence is the US President’s statement after the result of the referendum. He enforced the relations between the two countries and expressed his respect to British people’s decision to leave the EU, saying that it will have no effect on relations between the two countries on all levels.
♦ Thorny future for the new British-Iranian relationship
After the Iranian excitement of the British withdrawal, soon, reality woke them up. The future is far away from their dreams and expectations especially after the inauguration of the new British Prime Minister, Theresa May, a conservative who has a hard-line approach to relations with Iran. She has always opposed opening an Embassy or even a Visa office in Tehran though former British government did so just to get a piece of the European-Iran trade pie.
Politically, Iran should not expect a quick change in foreign relations between the two countries, with Theresa May Prime Minister, who served as former Interior Minister. She believes that Britain has preserved its international status after Brexit. After her inauguration, she addressed the parliament, threatening with nuclear weapons in case of any possible threat to the British internal and external security with no care about casualties and victims, even children. May is known for her strong relations with Jews and Israel. Eric Pickles, president of Association of Israel’s friends in the Conservative Party, said that under the leadership of May, Israel can rest assured that England will be by them whenever needed.
It is expected that New Britain will follow a balanced approach toward Iran just like the United States and Europe do. On the other hand, Britain might adopt a more hostile approach toward Iran with the coming of the hard-line Prime Minister toward Britain’s security in general and toward Iran in particular, and the close relationship she enjoys with Israel and the United State. The Iranian officials exaggerated in their unrealistic expectations. They couldn’t realize that the Iranian political and economic structural crises are too complicated to solve by having a closer relationship with a single European country even one as prominent as Britain and being hostile to the rest of the world.
Economically, regardless of the Prime Minister’s hostility toward Iran, Britain’s trade relations with Iran will not, by all means, be at the expense of the European Union. Britain maintains strong and huge trade relations with the European Union. Those ties can’t be easily broken down by Brexit and replaced by emerging markets, even if those markets are attractive for investment. The volume of trade exchange between the UK and Europe was 510 billion pounds in 2015 (668.8 billion dollars), while trade between Britain and Iran did not exceed $ 144 million for the same period, which is incomparable to that of the EU trade exchange.
In a year and a half, British exports from the European Union ranged between 38 and 49% per month of the total British exports, while British imports from EU countries ranged between 47 and 56% during the same period according to (HMRC), which means that the European Union is the major market for British exchange of goods.
In conclusion, the Iranian expectations and ambitions for building strong trade relations with Britain are unrealistic in light of the current circumstances. In addition to that, Britain’s traditional close political and economic ties with the EU and the United States will survive. Regardless of Brexit, Britain is very likely to maintain its role on the global stage, somewhere between the United States and Europe when it comes to political engagement with Iran that is adopting a hostile approach toward Britain’s trading and political partners like the United States, Europe, and Arab Gulf states. Based on that assumption, in terms of trade, it is likely that Brexit will help reshape economic relations between Britain and Iran, but not in the short run, and will be incomparable with the size of trade with the European Union.