Montesquieu Institute: from science to society

Getting Serious

Monday, August 27 2018, dhr Prashant Sabharwal

Komt er een deal met het Verenigd Koninkrijk over het verlaten van de Europese Unie of niet? Dat is de vraag die velen bezighoudt. Het scenario waarin het VK de EU verlaat zonder een formele terugtrekkingsovereenkomst zou nadelige gevolgen hebben voor de economie van het land en voor de rechten van mensen aan beide zijden van het kanaal. Een analyse van Prashant Sabharwal.


With the summer holidays about to end, Brexit negotiations between the European Union and United Kingdom will resume in earnest. The question on everyone’s mind is simple: Will there be a deal or will the United Kingdom leave the European Union without a deal? On all credible accounts, Britain leaving the European Union without a formal withdrawal agreement would have severely adverse consequences for the country’s economy, as well as the rights of millions of people on both sides of the Channel – despite unilateral moves by some governments to alleviate the situation, the severity of a potential “No Deal” outcome cannot be underlined enough. The issuing of formal technical notices advising businesses and ordinary citizens regarding the consequences of a “No Deal” Brexit only throws this conundrum into even starker relief.

Weakened by the recent resignations of erstwhile Brexit Secretary David Davis and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, Prime Minister Theresa May has to find a way to reconcile the irreconcilable. Leading a minority government, she is buffeted by an increasingly vociferous nationalist hard right within her own Conservative Party, led by the likes of Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg – and by a sliver of pro-Remain MPs led by former Attorney General Dominic Grieve and outspoken parliamentarian Anna Soubry. Whilst the implacable pro-Leave faction lacks the gravitas and popularity to win a general election, it certainly possesses the potential to turn the intractable Brexit negotiations into an insurmountable quagmire. The hard right within the Conservative Party regards any kind of negotiation result that would permit a modicum of free movement of workers or retention of EU Customs Union membership as betrayal of what they understand to be the will of the people (about the intellectual difficulty of claiming any sort of mandate from the shambolically organized 2016 Brexit referendum, see here).

Meanwhile, the European Union, represented in the negotiations by former EU Commissioner Michel Barnier, has not ceded an inch of its core demands: UK membership of the EU Single Market only upon acceptance of all four freedoms underpinning the EU legal order – freedom of capital, freedom of establishment, freedom of services and, crucially, freedom of movement within the entire European Economic Area. This is the principle upon which the European Union’s relations with Norway, Iceland, Liechtenstein and (with some qualifications) Switzerland are based. Considering that the Leave side also advocated withdrawal from the EU for the supposedly enhanced ability to impose tougher controls on immigration, conceding the issue of freedom of movement in order to secure Single Market membership appears a remote possibility. For now.

Another central issue, the status of the (currently open) border between the British province of Northern Ireland and the independent Republic of Ireland, also remains unresolved. Rather than making any meaningful progress over the summer, the ramping-up of hostilities towards the Republic of Ireland in UK press outlets sympathetic to the Conservative Party indicates a breakdown of the trust needed to lead the Brexit negotiations to a successful conclusion. Despite the optimism pushed by new Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, he cannot talk away the fact that he is entering the scene at a pivotal time for the UK-EU negotiations – with much trust having been frittered away by the incompetent handling of the talks by Mr Davis and the untimely interferences of the likes of Messrs Johnson and Rees-Mogg.

One would usually think that the declining health of a government would be a cause for celebration by the official opposition. Instead, the Labour Party under its leader Jeremy Corbyn is struggling to be heard on the Brexit debate or stay united – despite the fact that three-quarters of its members favour staying in the European Union, Corbyn (suspected of being a closet Eurosceptic himself) refuses to speak out or even countenance a second national referendum to resolve the issue. Such a second referendum has re-emerged as a possibility, especially now as the United Kingdom appears to verge ever-closer to the dreaded “No Deal” scenario – and the public mood is beginning to shift. We will just have to watch and see.

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