Global Politics editor, Alex Stephenson, shares his thoughts about the implications of Brexit
It’s been touted Brexit is a train crash in slow motion. To say so is wrong – Brexit is a series of multi-car pile ups, slowly converging to create one nebulus of political insanity. Many crashes are accidental, and may amount to very little or, conversely, have catastrophic consequences. Some are now all but inevitable, for some the referendum simply acted as a catalyst. Others, however, are seemingly being controlled by manic children, nonchalantly causing wanton destruction. What’s more disconcerting is these children are household names: Boris Johnson, David Davis, Paul Dacre and many more have all meddled in this concoction of chaos.
The implications of Brexit are manifold and multifaceted. So much so that it has become almost impossible to keep track of all the changes that have happened and all the changes to expect. By the very nature of politics events are going to arise that are entirely unexpected, however it’s imperative that all those who stand to lose from a poorly handled Brexit (that’s virtually all of society) do what they can to limit the effects.
One of the most pressing questions, and one what has been quietly ticking away since the referendum result, is what to do about Ireland. With Sinn Fein – once political arm of the IRA – achieving only one less seat than the unionist DUP in the recent Irish Stormont elections the Irish have sent a loud and clear message to Westminster. What such a message means is unambiguous: for the first time in my life the unionists have lost their majority in Ireland, and Irish reunification is actually a possibility to reconsider. These issues will only become expounded by May’s handling of Brexit negotiation; the Good Friday Agreement is contingent on the EU freedom of movement and a hard border between NI and ROI would be an anathema for Irish on both sides. Yet the Government seemingly have little idea of how to address the issue and yet they are incapable of understanding they need to be in crisis mode now – Scotland will be next.
The economic concerns surrounding Brexit are ever present, and seemingly desensitise you into a permanent state of nihilism. May is due to trigger Article 50 this month and with the mantra ‘a good deal or no deal’ she seems to be confused as to who has the power in these negotiations. We have two years to configure a way to interact with our largest trading bloc, without being inside such a trading bloc, that isn’t complete economic suicide. Approaching it from a WTO position isn’t tenable either – should we try and approach the WTO without the good grace of the EU they can trigger a trade dispute (as can any country with a grievance, political or economical) against the UK. Sacrificing the country, and the NHS, on the pyre of appeasing President Trump must also be avoided at all costs. To believe that anyone who enters trade negotiations with the motto ‘buy American and hire American’ has anything other than American interests is willfully ignorant. To enter into a deal with someone who insists on the ability to terminate with 6 months notice is downright stupid. Yet a trade deal with America is likely, and it will happen fast. The dearth of experienced trade negotiators in the civil service means we will be too busy contending with the WTO and the EU to protect our vital national institutions.
May and Davis have also shamelessly been branding the rights of EU migrants as a ‘trading chip’, forgetting these are real people with real lives who have contributed to our society. These people are not just seasonal agricultural workers (although there will be a shortage of those too). They are professors. They are entrepreneurs. They are students. They are Nigel Farage’s wife. We are as reliant on them as they are on us, and yet the government is resigned to neglecting them – and in doing so neglecting the British expats living in Europe. Yet for the time being there is no alternative. We need all these people. Immigrants do not take money out of the system – they contribute (to the tune of £25bn a year), they do not burden the NHS, they are the NHS. The Government has already realised this – and whether it’s immigration from a different country (India has specified it will be a condition of a trade deal) Brexiteers will be unhappy.
One of the most taxing issues, and as of yet, untested, is the legal question. Ian Dunt, ‘Brexit’ author, believes this is where the real difficult lies. British law and European law cannot be easily separated, and understanding where British law ends and European law begins is a mammoth – if not impossible – task. As it stands we are not equipped to deal the problem. But two years is what we have, and after such a time an independent British legal system, as such hasn’t existed for 50 years, is all we will have. May needs to stop with phrases such as a ‘red, white and blue’ Brexit and tell us how she will avert this impending catastrophe.
The amount of issues to follow is truly unimaginable. How the UK will deal with the impending steel industry crisis, the multitude of manufacturing companies that will want the ‘Nissan’ treatment, a new system of managing pharmaceuticals that isn’t reliant on the EU but works with it and ensuring the banking sector remain compliant are just a handful of the issues to come. And there will be more. It is up to the British people – 65 million people from all backgrounds, ages and classes – to ensure they are made with our interests in mind.