The Brexit Referendum – What next?
Brexit. I’ve never seen a topic quite have the effect of completely dominating both the political and the wider popular culture of Britain. This word carries the hopes and dreams of an independent nation, free to carve out its own destiny; along with the fears and apprehension of a country looking inwards and backwards in a world that looks outwards and to the future. With the triggering of Article 50, our leaving the EU has all but been set in stone; the debate of whether we leave is over. Now we must focus on the next step, what comes next? What are the potential consequences of our choice to leave this European Union?
The process of leaving the European Union can be found in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the agreement that created the EU. It’s a short and simple set of guidelines; a state wishing to leave the bloc must notify the European Commission, this begins a two-year process in which negotiations take place setting out the arrangements of the withdrawal and the potential new relationship with the EU. If no agreement is reached by March 29th 2019, we still leave but with no new legal or trading relations with the Union. There is a system in place to extend the negotiating time, however this can only occur if both parties agree to said extension. The likelihood of continuing talks is extremely low as the EU will probably attempt to give the UK the worst deal possible, thereby signaling the dangers of leaving to other countries with a similar mindset, and the UK is unable to make any new trade agreements with other countries until the process is finished; this is vital as the UK economy, as any other economy, thrives on certainty, this is something potential trade partners shall not be experiencing until after we have officially left. Now this isn’t to say that Article 50 is irrevocable once triggered, as Lord Kerr, who devised the clause, has said there is no legal obligation to leave the EU, and that we should reconsider our position once the terms of leaving become clearer. However, he did add that there may be some sort of political price, but legally they cannot force us out.
The EU is not the only union in danger of losing a member state due to this referendum. As of today (31st March 2017), First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has officially called on the UK Parliament to grant Scotland the ability to hold its own independence referendum. The legitimacy of this second referendum has been the subject of intense debate throughout the entirety of the United Kingdom. The largest argument against another referendum is that one was only just held in 2014 with the majority voting Remain; this was described as a ‘once in a generation referendum’ and as Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg pointed out “three years is a pretty short generation”. However, Nicola Sturgeon does hold a mandate, she was elected as First Minister of Scotland in 2015, one of her public promises was that she would hold a second referendum if Scotland is “dragged out of the EU”. With a very strong 62% majority to remain, it appears she has the legitimacy to push for independence. However, this is not to say that there is any degree of certainty that the First Minister will succeed, What Scotland Thinks’ most recent national poll, the 17th of March, shows 55% to 42% voting to remain in a second referendum; these figures have been consistent since the Brexit vote. However, none of this will matter if Parliament does not consent to the referendum. This is despite the Scottish Parliament’s support and with Theresa May holding the Government’s position that no referendum shall be held until the UK has left, it currently appears that Sturgeon’s tactical use of timing has been for naught. Even after all those hurdles, there is still no guarantee that Scotland will be able to join the EU as they must apply and undergo the same process as a new member; which has its own issues as Scotland may not reach the requirements (it’s weak economy has cast serious doubts) and any single member can block the entry of a new country joining; this might occur with Spain as an independent Scotland in the EU would set a precedent for the Catalonia region to seek its own autonomy.
In all honesty, no one truly knows what will happen next for the future of this country. Both remain and leave are still fighting over what will constitute a best and worst case scenario. Many believe that two years isn’t enough time to get a deal through, especially since now we must negotiate the terms of negotiation; this is following Donald Tusk’s announcement of the terms Britain must accept to begin trade and exit terms; these will include tax rate and trade regulation cuts being banned, along with prohibiting the scrapping of workers’ rights and environmental regulations. As more road blocks begin to appear, it may be less and less likely we’ll arrive at a deal in time. Both PM Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have claimed that the UK would be fine in this scenario as it would fall back on World Trade Organisation rules. However, this has been heavily criticised as under WTO rules would lead to trade tariffs skyrocketing, coupled with the loss of EU subsidies and industries such as farming would collapse. Another scenario is that Britain manages to remain a part of the Single Market, keeping the benefits of little or no trade tariffs, but the European Commission has rejected the idea of Britain remaining and not following the freedom of movement, this would undermine one of the key reasons Britain is leaving the EU; reducing immigration.
These points are all to say that the future is unclear, everything truly is up in the air right now and that’s scary. Now that’s not to say that it’s bad, leaving the EU could be the best or the worst thing to have happened to this country in decades. All of us are looking for certainty where there is none to be had. What’s important now is to pay attention to the debate over the next few years, transparency is the only way for us to know what will happen. One thing that would be a good start is to decide whether or not you agree with the Great Repeal act, although its deceptively simple premise of moving most EU laws to UK laws so that Parliament can sort through what is and isn’t beneficial after leaving; in reality the Government plan to give ministers the ability to create or dismiss legislation without the scrutiny of both Houses and the public. This right here is why we must remain vigilant, the referendum may be over but we all still have a role to play in this issue.