Britain is like an awkward housemate who says they will move out but won’t quite budge. The UK has voted to leave the EU, but there’s many a slip ‘twixt the cup and the lip.

Brexit
Nigel Farage, ex-leader of the British far-right UKIP party, speaks at a rally for U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump (L) in Jackson, Mississippi, 24 August 2016. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

This is the first of two articles on the consequences of British voters’ decision to leave the European Union.

By James Ryder

Picture the scene:

January 20, 2017. Washington, DC. U.S. President Donald Trump, just sworn in, turns to cheering well-wishers crowded below him at the Capitol Building.

“I’m resigning. Effective immediately. I have a life to lead.

“My vice president, Mike Pence, is also resigning.

“So House Speaker Paul Ryan, it’s time to get on with getting Mexico to pay for that wall.”

(Trump exits, stage left, by helicopter.)

It’s not a perfect analogy with what happened in Britain in June. The man most responsible for Britain’s vote to leave the European Union — Nigel Farage, the former leader of the far-right UK Independence Party party — was not running for prime minister.

But after the June referendum, a woman who did not campaign for Brexit, Theresa May, did become prime minister. And she’s surrounded by members of parliament who by and large don’t want Brexit, either.

The government is in no particular hurry to leave.

I’m a British national who lives in France. Most French people are a bit sad the UK has voted to leave the EU. But any sadness is tempered by their conviction the UK was never an enthusiastic EU partner and was always demanding special treatment. So, they reckon, like any failed relationship, things may be working out for the best. Maybe we’re better apart.

I disagree. The UK was not just a nuisance — it robustly engaged in the EU project. But that’s irrelevant now. David Cameron failed to manage Conservative Party Euro-skeptics, and Britain has now decided to quit the EU.

Many of my French friends are confused why more than two months after the vote, the infamous Article 50 — the EU exit mechanism — has not been triggered. Many European governments, in fact, are frustrated by the lack of a Brexit timetable.

Article 50 has not been triggered because few Brits genuinely expected the Leave side to win. A referendum campaign lasting 10 weeks is more efficient than a U.S. presidential race, which takes about 18 months. But the problem with British elections is you can speed through the whole process without having a sensible discussion about consequences.

As key players from the Leave camp now acknowledge, their successful battle plan involved repeating slogans over those few weeks and avoiding getting stuck in details. “People only engage in politics for a few minutes every week”, said Matthew Elliott, a key Leave organizer.

As it stands, the government is in no particular hurry to leave and has been slow to signal what it wants — except to say mysteriously that “Brexit means Brexit” and “We are leaving the EU but staying in Europe”.

Some interests are going to lose out.

Many Leave campaigners feel that the free movement of EU citizens to come and work in the UK is the number one problem that needs fixing.

Another category of Leave supporters dislike aspects of the EU but appreciate free trade. They would prefer to stay in Europe’s Single Market and not pay trade tariffs, but also benefit from the lack of “non-tariff” barriers and from the various support networks that it offers. But staying in the Single Market would likely require the UK to allow EU citizens to migrate freely to Britain.

The latest thinking is that the UK will seek a unique agreement, allowing no or low trade tariffs on the goods and services that are most important to the British economy, with some controls on EU immigration.

Such a treaty would likely end most free movement of labor, pleasing hard-line Leave campaigners. But everyone will be lobbying to be treated as a priority in these negotiations. And unless EU negotiators are feeling unusually generous towards Britain, some interests are going to lose out, and not only in the commercial sector.

For example, in recent years scientific research in Britain has benefited from EU funding, with grants now estimated to account for 10 percent of all research work. And it’s not just about money. There’s the ease of collaboration, the ability to lead and coordinate major projects, economies of scale and freedom of movement.

During my PhD studies, I participated in a large-scale scientific research campaign in Malaysia. That project required reams of paperwork to obtain visas and to arrange for the transport of equipment through customs.

By contrast, scientists based in EU countries can move themselves and precious equipment within the block with ease. It gives people more freedom to collaborate and focus on the science itself.

Let’s not forget Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar.

In any negotiations with Brussels, every UK sector — financial consultancy, motor manufacturing, education, technology, agricultural, healthcare — will be looking out for their interests. It’s hard to see how all of them will emerge as winners.

Ministers will have to decide where the UK’s national priorities lie. Are we a nation of shopkeepers? Of financial analysts? Car makers? Scientists? Farmers?

Alas, the uncomfortable conclusion could be that changing nothing at all would be the best deal for everyone. But it may not be an option.

There will likely be painful economic trade-offs to control immigration. There are also deep-seated social issues to address in less prosperous and often ignored parts of the country that the referendum campaign brought to light.

And let’s not forget Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar — all of which voted “Remain” by large margins. The UK is a “country of countries,” but the days when England, the largest of the lot, can coerce the others and expect minimal resistance are over.

Quite a lot to deal with for a Government that largely did not want Brexit in the first place. Maybe that Mexican wall would be less problematic.

So now I describe Brexit to French people like this: It’s less a failed relationship and more like an EU house-share. The UK is your awkward roommate who’s just announced they’re moving out to live alone but won’t give notice to the landlord. They’ll leave only when they’ve found a better apartment for less rent than they’re paying now to share. They might be gone in a month, a year or a decade … or perhaps even later?

So don’t make any plans just yet.


jryder (640x597)James Ryder is a research scientist from southwest England who has been working as a Postdoc for the Laboratory for the Science of Climate and the Environment (LSCE) at Saclay, France, for the past few years. He voted “Remain” in the recent EU Referendum and has been closely following developments since.

3 Comments

Don’t hold your breath for Brexit

  1. Hi,

    Thanks for your comment – I don’t really have time to respond to all of your points, but the running theme is that you think that all countries in Europe should restore full border controls.

    I suppose it comes down to philosophy. My personal view (which I don’t discuss much in the article) is that there are some projects, including management of refugee flow, security, scientific research, pollution controls, climate change action and, yes, single market trading, where collaborating as a region offers more opportunities than putting up strong borders (in the form of visa controls on people, tariffs and non-tarriff barriers). I think some of the fears you refer to are over-hyped and are out-weighed by the benefits of working together, in these themes. That’s why I voted ‘Remain’.

    But the article is more about the ‘here and now’, rather than the pros and cons of the Britain in the EU. The Leave vote won in the Referendum. Starting from where we are now, it seems clear to me that a lot of British politicians did not think the vote would turn out this way, but are now having to choose between the potential for very severe economic and hence social harm on the one hand (the poorest tend to suffer the most whenever the economy tanks…), or being accused of ignoring the immigration pressure groups on the other. So I think there could be a stalemate for quite a long time.

  2. One thing we must appreciate about the BRITISH is that they gave an opportunity to their countrymen to decide on their FUTURE. BRITAIN had the GUTS to say once again, in one voice… NO… NO…. NO….
    If Britain had REMAINED in the EU, the most benefitted would have been the FREE FLOW of FRAUDSTERS, ECONOMIC MIGRANTS AND CRIMINALS. In fact every EU country should opt for a REFERENDUM and vote to go INDEPENDENT, at the same time, WRITE-OFF the TAXATION between countries for Trade and Commerce, the amount of money collected via Taxation over trade is in fact lost by way of the losses made due to the damages done by the alien migrants coming from alien cultures.
    Great Britain has historical relationships with a third of the countries of the Planet Earth, and as Prime Minister Cameroon once said to an American Television Show, sometimes Very Good Relations, and sometimes Not So Very Good Relations. A lot many of these countries still carry a great deal of animosity against the present day British, who have nothing to do with, or know about any past historical errors of the country. Having Said that, it is also true that, these former colonies don’t understand that, this happened 200 – 300 years back and the mind-set of the people of Britain was 200 – 300 years back-dated, and it suited that era. At the same time, the mind-set of the present day rulers and/or the people, of the countries colonized by the British Empire, is worse than what is being projected or taught to the countrymen of the former colonies. Britain is indeed A Great Country, that Gifted the world THE MAGNA-CARTA, and numerous – Industrial, Medical, Scientific, Technological contributions to the world. The Legacy left behind by the British Empire will Forever be Nostalgic, to the Freedom, Equality and Democracy loving people of the Planet Earth. UK is right in getting out of the EU and start doing business with the rest of the World, the world speaks in English and English Customs, Etiquettes, English Manners etc. which is a combination of the best of the world, and is acknowledged with great privilege and respect. Its not due to anything that we Indians or freedom loving people have against the EU, but the problem is that, we cannot use the same Yard-stick when dealing with the other EU member countrymen. The Western Europeans may have a great deal of similarities to the British, but the Eastern Europeans have not got the Democratic Maturity that the Western Europeans have. Now the situation has gone even worse, due to the Refugees that have swarmed into Western Europe. Culturally, Europe has leaped backwards by more than a thousand odd year.
    On Tariffs and Taxes, why should there be any tax at all between such a small cluster of countries in a continent which is so much land-locked. The money EU is saving on TAXES for being a FREE-TRADE-ZONE, is lost in the form of Liabilities on the Influx of Refugees and ‘Civilizing them up’, much less to talk about the vandalism these refugees get into, for they are not from Disciplined Societies, rather coming from Autocratic societies, and would be as Autocratic as can be, if given an opportunity.
    The reason Scotts Voted to REMAIN in the EU, was because they just wanted to do anything to oppose the English, to avenge the loss of the first Scottish referendum. The allegation of Fear Mongering is actually done by the Non-whites and/or Eastern Europeans. Until the Referendum, most of the Non-whites were taking the cover of lack of Englishness among the Eastern Europeans. If the UK gets rid of EU, the Non-whites fear that there wont be anyone left to blame, once the Eastern Europeans lose their rights in the UK.
    The 48% who voted against the LEAVE CAMPAIGN were Eastern Europeans, Asians, Blacks and refugees, and ofcourse those young mislead and carefree whites, who would not like to work, and rather like to just live on Govt grants and Unemployment benefits. I don’t think migrants have much of a love towards the UK, nor do they realize the historical relationship, if at all they have any, they don’t value it, much less to talk about any allegiance to the Queen of England, they are there as economic migrants and are not having any loyalty to the host country ie. UK. Only the first generation migrants live in a disciplined manner, the next generation onwards they start the tantrums of the Country of Origin. The migrants are there only to keep looking for better and better deals to jump from one place to another. Opening up the Borders to EU means that, they will be able to disappear into the European crowd, taking advantage of the Broad-minded, Benevolent and Tolerance of the British people.
    None of the citizens of the EU Members can speak proper English, much less having any historical relationship to reconnect with. If UK remains in the EU, then due to the vast INFLOW OF REFUGEES and EU Resident/Passport holders, UK will Lose the very ENGLISH LANGUAGE itself, which happens to be the INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS LANGUAGE. Also note that, TWO OUT OF THREE Individuals in the UK would be from a EU Country, speaking broken English, thereby turning UK into a CONFUSED COUNTRY like India, which is still struggling and fighting to SPEAK in a COMMON LANGUAGE, after 70 years of independence.
    In the last 40 years or so, British people had been abandoned by their govts. Due to which a lot of them left the shores and married people from the far east viz. Philipines, Indonesia etc. These were the countries, that were not even worth looking at, during the best times of the Empire. The desperate and innocent British men started getting married to just about any cleaner girl from the Philipines, as these men were sort of orphaned by the United Kingdom. Unfortunately the Indian masses were always educated to hate the British and not too much of a marriage relationship occurred between the Indians and the British for us to have a blood-relationship sort of an attachment towards the United Kingdom, thanks to the Pak dominated cinema industry of India, who took advantage of the Indian dislike towards the British.
    Asia and Africa are the two continents that are going to be the SHINING PERFORMERS of 21st century. The new Trading partners would definitely be the vast majority of English speaking population of the world in Asia and Africa. Indians need not be worried about Immigration opportunities to the UK, once UK comes with the Point-system like it is in Australia and NZ, the no. of immigrants will be a people with whom Britain had once Trade and Commercial relations with.
    I dont think EU has much to offer Britain, other than a free passage under the cover of being EU residents/passport holders. Besides most of the EU countries are erstwhile Iron Curtain countries. It was only the Rulers of the Communist countries who were tried and put out of power, but those who supported these tyrants escaped punishment and got mixed up with the general population. These individuals carry the same autocratic mind-set and would join the band-wagon along with the vast no. of refugees etc. that are swarming into EU and making their way into the UK. These refugees will live on hand-outs first, and once they have established themselves in the UK, will get rid of those in the UK who have been living there for generations.
    To those who regret voting to LEAVE the EU, the fact remains that the Young innocent white Englishmen, are completely careless and have taken the world for granted, with respect to visa formalities. They simply dont know the process and procedures of Visas and such formalities that take time. These White Englishmen also dont realize that the people who come into the UK are not just Tourists, but Terrorists as well, disguised as Tourists, besides those, who come with FAKE DEGREES, or FRADULENTLY acquired Degrees by cheating and copying in the Exams or just buying their Degrees from the nearby Grocery of their Universities, from Asia etc., thereby making the migrants more entitled to secure a job over the local Englishmen. Much less to mention the standard of education and human life values the migrants (both first generation and beyond), give to fellow humans, and claim to be more qualified than the people of the UK, who have formed the country with hard work to attain, Freedom, Equality and Democracy, after struggling with the Establishment. Whereas, these migrants have come to destroy the foundation at which a Free and Democratic country like UK is formed, exploit the country for their selfish motives and destructive revengeful mentality. The UKIP has taken the initiative and responsibly taken ownership of the country from falling into the hands of such individuals, Belgium, certain parts of France, now Germany etc. are the victims of this SWARM of REFUGEES, these two countries are now kind of held hostage of their consciousness. The only way to keep a Tab on the Migrants and Refugees is by closing the borders, thereby screening and tracking such individuals becomes a lot more easier than having a BORDERLESS EUROPE. There is no point of regretting later, once the country has been completely dominated by those who dont want to share the world with others.
    The decision to Vote to LEAVE was the RIGHT ONE.

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