Millennium Post

Britain's Perpetuated Necessity

The UK is due to leave the European Union on October 31, 2019 , more than three years after the Brexit referendum passed by 51.9 per cent – however, a deal doesn’t seem much closer

Britains Perpetuated Necessity

Nothing has divided the British society in the last one century than Brexit, with the Tories, the Labour, the Liberals and the people both swinging from one end of a resolute yes to a scared no at different times. It was said about the times before the Second World War that the sun never set in the British Empire and Great Britain was everywhere. Now the same Britain or UK contemplates going into its own shell, to disengage, and run its affairs independently. A referendum was held on June 23, 2016, to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union (EU). Leave won by getting 51.9 per cent votes.

The UK was due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, but the withdrawal agreement reached between the EU and UK has been rejected three times by UK MPs. Having granted an initial extension of the Article 50 process until April 12, 2019, EU leaders have now backed a six-month extension until October 31, 2019.

After months of negotiation, the UK and EU agreed on the Brexit deal. It comes in two parts. A withdrawal agreement, that sets the terms of the UK's divorce from the EU. It covers an estimated £39bn UK owes to the EU and what happens to UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU and EU citizens living in the UK. Additionally, a 26-page statement on future relations has been reached which is not legally-binding and sketches out the kind of long-term relationship the UK and EU want to have in a range of areas, including trade, defence and security.

There is a transition period also, which is part of the withdrawal agreement, which so far has not been approved by MPs. It refers to a period after Brexit until December 31, 2020 (or possibly later), to get everything in place and allow businesses and others to prepare for the post-Brexit rules. Free movement would continue during the transition period, as the EU wanted. The UK would be able to strike its own trade deals – although they wouldn't be able to come into force until January 1, 2021. But it all rests on the withdrawal deal being ratified.

The UK can leave without a deal too. In that case, they would sever all ties with EU with immediate effect, with no transition period and no guarantees on citizens' rights of residence. The government fears this would cause significant disruption to businesses in the short-term, with lengthy tailbacks of lorries at the channel ports, as drivers face new checks on their cargos.

The World Trade Organization sets rules for countries that don't have free trade deals with each other, including tariffs – the taxes charged on the import of goods. Without an agreement on trade, the UK would trade with the EU under World Trade Organization rules.

PM Theresa May triggered the two-year process of leaving the EU on March 29, 2017. She has survived two attempts to remove her from the office so far. However, PM May herself has told Tory MPs she will resign, if MPs back her deal, so someone else can lead the next phase of Brexit negotiations.

Labour Party states that it accepts the referendum result and that Brexit is going to happen. But it opposes Theresa May's Brexit plan and wants to stop it and force a general election. In February, it said it was prepared to back another referendum to prevent a "damaging Tory Brexit", after failing to win a vote of no-confidence against the government.

On citizens, an agreement between UK and EU provides what Theresa May says is certainty to the 3.2 million EU citizens in UK – as well as citizens of Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland that they will be able to carry on living and working in the UK as they have done with their rights enshrined in UK law and enforced by British courts. UK citizens in the EU will also retain their current rights. Under the plan, EU citizens legally resident in UK and UK citizens in the EU will be able to live for up to five years before losing the as proposed in the Brexit deal.

If no trade deal is in prospect by July 2020, the two sides could agree to extend the transition period instead. They could do this only once. But there is no agreement on how long any extension would be. PM May has said EU citizens in the UK will be able to stay even if there is no deal done on Brexit. There is uncertainty about what no deal would mean for Britons living in France, Germany or elsewhere.

All existing EU laws will be copied across into UK law, to prevent legislative "black holes", under the terms of the European Union (Withdrawal Bill). The UK government can then take a call on which ones it wants to keep, change or ditch.

According to the latest figures from the Office of National Statistics, net migration to the UK from non-EU countries was 2,61,000 in the twelve months to September 2018 - the highest since 2004. In other words, the result of the referendum appears to have already had an impact before Brexit has actually happened.

There is much debate about the long-term costs and benefits to the UK economy of Brexit - but what we do know for certain is that the EU wants the UK to settle any outstanding bills before it leaves. The £39bn 'divorce bill' will cover things like pension payments to EU officials, the cost of relocating London-based EU agencies and outstanding EU budget commitments. But the calculation of an exact UK share will depend on exchange rates, on interest rates, on the number of financial commitments that never turn into payments, and more. The UK says that if there is no deal agreed on Brexit it would pay substantially less and focus only on its "strict international legal obligations".

The UK could leave without any Brexit "divorce bill" deal but that would probably mean everyone ending up in court battles. If a compromise can be achieved, and if payment of the bill were to be spread over many years, the amounts involved may not be that significant economically.

David Cameron, his Chancellor George Osborne and many other senior figures who wanted to stay in the EU predicted an immediate economic crisis if the UK voted to leave and though it is true that the pound slumped the day after the referendum, predictions of immediate doom were wrong, with the UK economy estimated to have grown 1.8 per cent in 2016, second only to Germany's 1.9 per cent among the world's G7 leading industrialised nations. UK economy continued to grow at almost the same rate in 2017 but slowed to 1.4 per cent in 2018, the slowest rate since 2012. In the first quarter of 2019, the UK economy grew at 0.5 per cent.

On the issue of the UK's political influence globally, views differ. View one is that UK projects power and influence in the world, working through organisations such as EU and that on our own it'll be a much-diminished force. View two is

that unencumbered by the other 27 members, the UK can get on with things and start adopting a much more independent, self-confident, assertive role on the world stage.

Given the complex nature of Brexit, deal or no deal, and the fact that a referendum has supported Brexit, with larger sections of the ruling and opposition parties also now falling in line, to go ahead with Brexit by October 2019 is the only right democratic way out. Alongside, a re-negotiated deal, with lower pay-out, spread over several years, and with minimum pain to citizens on both sides, is the right path ahead.

Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury

Prof Ujjwal K Chowdhury

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