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Brexit

Is Britain Ready for Brexit?

 6 min read / 

Once Theresa May activated Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, a countdown was started. The EU was unwilling to talk before the article was used, but the lack of planning that surrounded the UK negotiating team wasted, effectively, a year of a two-year process. With less than a year to go until Britain formally leaves the EU there are still many issues facing the UK in a post-Brexit world. Negotiations are still on-going about how Britain will transition out of the trading bloc, and it is yet to be determined what relationship will be in place once the withdrawal is complete. There are a number of issues that need to be resolved.

Replicating EU Institutions

From Brexit day, March the 29th 2019, to the 31st of December 2020 Britain will be in a transitional period. Most EU rules will still apply while details of the final agreement are thrashed out. British waters will remain open to European fishing boats, and the island nation will effectively continue as a party to the Common Fisheries Policy. A system needs to be implemented which replaces the Common Agricultural Policy, which subsidies farmers across Europe as well. The CAP was instituted as a way to protect French farmers from the entry of German industry into the common market. Many farmers now rely on the top-ups coming from Brussels for survival. The British government will need to help British farmers replace the £3.4bn they receive in payments and defend their food security. The exact structure of a farm subsidy board has yet to be discussed, including whether it will be a devolved matter, managed separately by the constituent nations of the UK and their parliaments, or if it will be a four-nation matter managed centrally for the whole UK. While the CAP is one of the largest European institutions which will have to be replaced, there are many more minor ones which Westminster will have to develop post-2020.

A Global Britain

One of the main benefits of Brexit, according to those supporting Leave, is the ability for Britain to negotiate its own trade deals. The plan for a ‘Global Britain’ would reposition the UK from a eurocentric trader to a global one. Trade deals are notoriously hard to deliver and take a long time to negotiate even if they are successful. Liam Fox, Secretary of State for International Trade, has been urged to focus on markets that could develop in the future, which would see deals with Malaysia, Bangladesh and Pakistan prioritised. By focusing on developing economies now, Britain will be in a better place to take advantage of when those regions do grow prosperous economies.

Another tactic would be to focus on Anglophone nations, like Canada or Australia, and further increase historical ties with those countries. A dual approach of concentrating on Commonwealth members, stretching from developed countries to developing nations around the globe, is yet another avenue to explore. The Department for International Trade is advertising open positions for director roles in their trade negotiation teams for both Asia and Australasia and America. Despite this lack of key personnel in specific sectors, the DIT seems well placed to be able to negotiate trade deals. It employs around 1,300 civil servants, and these are weighted more toward higher ranks than other departments. Though skills learned only from experience have been outsourced to Brussels for decades, and time will be needed until the British team is as productive as their international partners.

Northern Ireland

Sorting out Northern Ireland’s position after Brexit remains the most contentious issue. There are many competing factors which muddy the water. The Good Friday Agreement (GFA), which recently celebrated its twentieth anniversary, relies on both Northern Ireland and Ireland being part of the EU, or the Common Market and Customs Union at least. May’s position that Britain will leave both the CM and the CU while retaining a soft border with Ireland is incompatible. Dublin is keen to see an open border remain with the six counties; memories of the Troubles still linger. A special status for Northern Ireland could solve matters, but the Democratic Unionist Party, whose 10 MPs are crucial to the survival of the Conservative minority government, will not tolerate any separation of NI from the rest of the UK. They see such efforts as an endeavour to reunite Ireland and take Northern Ireland out of the United Kingdom entirely.

Once the UK is out of the EU though, citizens from Northern Ireland may enjoy considerably more rights than their British counterparts. All people from Northern Ireland are entitled to an Irish passport, giving them access to labour markets across Europe. The GFA also commits the UK to ensuring access for NI citizens to the European Court of Human Rights. It was this provision which prevented David Cameron replacing the European Convention on Human Rights with a British Bill of Rights. The people of Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU, and the six counties rely on Brussels for €3.5bn of funding every year. Support, already low for Brexit, may ebb further if this is not replaced.

Success or Failure

Britain can undoubtedly make a success of Brexit. It is a wealthy, developed economy whose primary focus is on exporting services. It is similar to Japan in many ways, and the Asian nation is among the world’s leading economies. However, there are obstacles to overcome. The critical issue of Northern Ireland is the main one, but replacing European institutions to take over after Brexit is another. Negotiations must proceed quickly so that Britain has the correct infrastructure in place come 2020.

There is a lack of discussion about what would be a metric of success for Brexit. Growing GDP at a greater rate than in the EU would ben obvious place to start, but that would take in economies which differ significantly from Britain’s. Comparing the UK to the Netherlands or Belgium, which are both heavily reliant on exporting services like Britain, may be a better way to do. Ultimately, though, the success or failure of Brexit will be drawn from perception, rather than fact. If people believe their lives are better because of Brexit than it will have been a success.

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