June 23rd was described in an interview by one of my university professors as a ‘day of infamy, if not consummate stupidity‘. Rather than consummate stupidity, Brexit should have been an opportunity, but has rather turned into a missed opportunity due to Theresa May and her incompetent cronies.
Rather fortuitously, the entire second half of my A-Level politics course focused on the EU such as specific policy frameworks, in particular, the Common Agricultural and Common Fisheries Policy; the UK’s relationship with the EU, EU institutions such as the Parliament, Commission, Council and Court of Justice as well as technical concepts such as subsidiarity, supranationalism, inter-governmentalism and competence.
Instead of trying to engage with the rather dogmatic campaigns on both sides of the debate, I waited on what PM Cameron had to bring to the table. Thin gruel it turned out to be. The Independent praised Cameron for exempting the UK from further political integration, meaning in essence nothing would be renegotiated. The UK was considered the awkward partner of the EU – and is often placed on the outer-ring of EU integration.
Opt-outs had been secured in 1992 Maastricht Treaty regarding the single currency and 1997 Amsterdam Treaty in the context of Schengen. My choice to vote for Brexit was based on EU weaknesses, not manipulating the vote to a referendum on Piggate or protest about social injustices and the harshness of Tory austerity. My reasons incorporated a combination of left and right-wing Euroscepticism: the way the single market provides an opportunity for firms to undercut workers by recruiting cheap labour, issues with a rather discriminatory immigration system and apathy regarding competence of supranational law.
Leave won by over a million votes and now two years following the referendum, it would be fair to argue that clarity is arguably non-existent. Brexit was rather clear at the start of the process. January 2017: Lancaster House – PM May outlines withdrawal from single market and customs union, hence Brexit. March 29 2017: Article 50 triggered – Brexit process underway. Then, a presidential election campaign was the instigator of how Brexit started to unravel. May lost her majority resulting in Brexit secretary David Davis suggesting that the mandate to withdraw from the single market had evaporated.
There are different interpretations of Brexit, often dubbed ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ Brexit. ‘Hard’ Brexit refers to a full withdrawal from the single market and customs union and in the ideal world, withdraw from the EU with a new free-trade agreement. In essence, ‘Soft’ Brexit involves retaining as close to the current relationship the U.K. has with the EU, such as membership of the European Economic Area. This would involve continuity of the single market equating to compliance of the four freedoms: goods, capital, services and labour in which Article 45 of the Lisbon Treaty ensures freedom of movement of workers within the single market. The U.K. would be outside the EU but a rule-taker, not a rule-maker as there would be no UK representation in the Commission, Council and Parliament.
The UK could also become a member of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) which means the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice will not be enforced. However, in joining EFTA, it would result in the inability to negotiate free-trade agreements as Britain would be signing up to already pre-negotiated trading arrangements. A massive opportunity of Brexit missed but perhaps more tolerable for Brexiteers who re-affirm that the UK must not become a vassal state.
The way withdrawal has been handled is extremely questionable to say the least, bordering on a national humiliation. Theresa May has bent over backwards in trying to secure whatever deal possible. In a negotiation, you should not come across as desperate or else the other side will have you at their mercy and, to be fair, Barnier and Juncker saw May begging. The UK collapsed to agreeing an over-the-odds ‘divorce bill’: I never knew you had to pay a leaving fee when you depart a club. The UK agreed to pay between £35bn – £39bn in financial responsibilities but nothing is agreed until everything is agreed. James O’Brien, LBC presenter, summarised the situation perfectly: No Deal ebbed further away as well as No Leave.
Northern Ireland was at the centre of Brexit phase one talks. The conclusion of phase one negotiations ensured that the UK will guarantee no hard border on the island of Ireland – avoiding a return to the epitome of the Troubles. In the event of no deal, there will be full regulatory alignment between the EU and the North on some areas of trade. The Government’s hands are tied on the issue of Northern Ireland. The alternate scenario was an invisible border in the Irish Sea which essentially produces the re-unification of Ireland, inconceivable given May’s supply and confidence agreement with the socially illiberal Democratic Unionists. Predictions are dangerous in politics but I predict the North will be granted special status ensuring regulatory alignment, preventing a physical border, which will open up a debate regarding Scotland’s place inside the single market. Sturgeon has campaigned for a second #indyref since June 24th 2016 and with the likelihood of the North being granted special status, I wouldn’t be surprised if Sturgeon campaigned for something similar given the extremely different context.
It is over a year since negotiations with Brussels began and despite this, there has been no progress regarding the future trading relationship. May outlined that the UK would be withdrawing from the customs union. All well and good, but what is the replacement? What is the future? Two suggestions have been speculated: the customs partnership and Maximum Facilitation. The customs partnership would see the UK collect tariffs on behalf of the EU for any goods entering the UK that were destined for any other EU member state. Brexiteers described this strategy as making it impossible to forge new trade deals and would subsequently render the International Trade Department obsolete. The Maximum Facilitation would use technology and trusted trader schemes, designed to minimise border checks. This was deemed unworkable by Barnier, and naive, unrealistic with immense consequences according to The Manufacturers Association (EEF).
Leave voters have been let down by the incompetence of Theresa May and her Cabinet cronies. Brexit could have been handled much more efficiently with a strong captain in the hot seat and an individual who was devoted to the cause. Someone who did not use Brexit as a method of furthering his own political career – sorry BoJo! A Michael Gove type of fellow would be more suited despite his unpopularity amongst students and teachers due to controversial high school education reforms. May began the process with the tough rhetoric, evident at Lancaster House, but her backbone was as strong as a chocolate eclair. Now, two years since the referendum, and whilst honouring the result, the best deal is outside the single market but within the customs union. Not the deal I envisaged when I sipped out of my tea on the morning of June 24th but I guess the country is paying the price for incompetence and having a prime minister who is not devoted to delivering Brexit.