Brexit isn't going to satisfy anyone

Donald Tusk
Image credit: Andrzej Barabasz

At 12.20pm last Wednesday the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, was handed Theresa May’s letter triggering Article 50. In a press conference later he said that it was a sad day in Europe and in London.  And let’s be clear: it was a very sad day. Important questions regarding the economy and immigration remain unanswered by those who led the Leave campaign, as it becomes increasingly clear their promises on political power, and control of our borders, will not be met. So it was indeed a sad moment, as the United Kingdom departs from the European Union on an untrodden course, to an unknown destination.

During the referendum campaign, the Leave side claimed that any break with the EU would be a perfect opportunity for the UK to bridge new alliances with countries queuing up for trade deals. Unshackled from the rules and regulations of the EU, and with political sovereignty returned to Britain, the Leave camp claimed that our businesses could flourish as we could secure a free trade deal with the EU, and at the same time build new trading routes to Asia and the United States. 

However, early economic predictions shed a questionable light on these claims. Banks are looking to move abroad as uncertainty spreads, the Government has been forced in to a sweet heart deal with car industry, and our currency has been devalued. How far is the Government willing to let the value of the pound slide? How many more cosy tax deals is it going to do with industry to keep them in Britain? How many businesses is it going to witness move abroad? 

To compound this uncertainty, Theresa May’s six-page letter triggering Article 50 ceded tremendous amounts of political control to the EU. The EU now has power over any transitional agreement, as Angela Merkel said the UK must disentangle its current membership before negotiations on any free trade agreement can begin. It can now reject any of our attempts to forge new agricultural, service, manufacturing, or security agreements as it seeks to gain consensus amongst all its member-states. In order to trade with the continent we will still have to abide by at least some of their regulatory standards, yet have no say over what those restrictions are, or what they will impact upon. This questions the claims made by Boris Johnson and his allies that we could simply ‘take control’ of our future by voting Leave. 

Many compare our current situation to a divorce. Yet, as it has been pointed out, a divorce is between two equal partners. In our case, there are twenty-seven of them and one of us. Creating any niche new deal will be more difficult and costly for us—economically, and politically—than it will be for them.

Another key issue in the referendum campaign was immigration. Nigel Farage claimed that a vote for Brexit was a vote to control our borders, and to control who entered the UK. Despite these claims, the signal from politicians has been mixed. David Davis admitted on Question Time that a reduction in immigration was not inevitable. Indeed, as Theresa May found on her trade visit to India, if she desires an improved trade-relationship with non-EU countries (like the Leave campaign had advocated), she must accept concessions on Visas for skilled workers and students. Evidently, the Leave campaign’s pledge that immigration could be reduced has some serious flaws that risk flouting the desires of many Leave voters.

I fear it is becoming increasingly clear that Brexit will leave all of us worse off. The anxiety of Remain voters will be realised as our economic stability will be rocked further, and the government contemplates a race-to-the-bottom, slashing corporation tax to keep businesses operating on our shores. At the same time, the aspirations of Leave voters—to take back control—will be dashed as the reality of making new trade deals hits. I don’t advocate for a second referendum, but the Government must be held accountable for future agreements. Brexit is a wolf in sheep’s closing, and we should be careful not to get bitten.

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