As every week passes, the U.K. is teetering towards the edge of a dangerous precipice. We are seeing this getting played out on TV almost every day, and wondering what is it that intelligent, educated folks in the most civilized and developed region of the world could not resolve to their mutual satisfaction.
As is to be expected, the U.K. thinks that it always has a “superior” edge compared to any other nation or bloc in the world, and it is not just “any other” country. It is special and used to rule a world when the Sun never set on the British Empire! Is it surprising to find out that the British Government is cocky as ever, and is now run by an indefatigable tough and unforgiving woman who just cannot be beaten in the political game?
However, the European Union (EU) does not subscribe to the above general view that the British are a superior country and could dictate terms even when they want to leave the EU. There has been a general hardening of views on this matter amongst the more poweful members of the EU such as Germany and France. The Brussels folks have been giving a tough time to Theresa May every time she had come calling – always seeking more concessions, to get out of the hole she has created for herself in the U.K. Parliament. To be fair, it is her own Conservative Party which has risen against her autocracy in the Brexit affair, and already defeated her in two Parliamentary votes. What is her credibility in the eyes of the EU politicians and bureaucrats, when she is repeatedly getting booted out by her own party men and women?
Now this has taken more than 32 months and the end is still not in sight. Apart from the Parliament, the Cabinet, businesses, banks and citizens of the U.K. are wondering where all this is going to end up. Businesses are already departing from the U.K. and economic growth is stalling. The British Pound is under pressure. No body knows with any level of certainty how things will work out, and this instability is affecting business decision-making and steering away investments by global corporations. There is no sense of direction or guidance from the government side. People have been left to fend for themselves ultimately, and this fiasco has led them to question the very basis and wisdom of Brexit.
The underlying fundamental issue for Britain in Brexit is all about sovereignty. British people do not wish to subjugate themselves under the rules perpetuated by the EU, they do not want European elections to impact Britain, they do not like the EU’s privacy laws and tax regulations, and what not. I do not yet understand, if that be the case, how come the mighty Britain was under EU rule for the past 47 years? Why did it subject itself to such a free-wheeling, liberal rule in the first place?
Obviously, it was because of the huge economic benefits. Apart from labour mobility, trade in goods was to the advantage of Britain. Even now, Britain’s share of the EU imports is over 44%. The British have always enjoyed trade advantages over the rest of the world and they have effectively leveraged it when dealing within the EU arrangement for the past nearly half century.
Of course, if now Brexit happens, the EU will not only collect the fine due as a result of the divorce from Britain, but also impose trade restrictions which would place Britain on par with other non-EU countries which will be disliked totally by British government. But then you cannot have the cake and eat it too, right?
The Irish backstop has caused huge disconnect in the British psyche. As far as the EU is concerned, the South and North parts of Ireland are separate and distinct. The Republic of Ireland stays within the EU as it is – so there may be EU Customs checks between the two Irelands, which cannot be done as per the Nineties agreement resolving the violent Irish dispute, whereby the border between the two parts of Ireland is supposed to be fully open (I may not be accurate on this topic).
So Brexit could challenge the way the British think about Ireland.
All told, it is a totally confusing and demoralizing time for the British people, who are already suffering from very high taxes and wreaking infrastructure. With the tough immigration stance taken by the government, it is likely that foreign university candidates would reduce their focus on the U.K. Large banks are already planning for a no Brexit deal kind of situation. There will be no new manufacturing investments coming to the U.K. anymore, as the goods produced cannot be exported to the EU without import taxes. It looks like impending gloom everywhere, but then the British are known to negotiate their way out of rather tight spots in the past.
So we can expect something before the new deadline of 22nd May imposed by the EU. Theresa May is likely to lose the third vote in the Parliament on Brexit, so the 12th April dateline will, most likely, be not achieved.
It is amazing to note that, in typical political fashion, it has taken nearly 3 years for the U.K. to get out of the EU in a bad way – what does this say about British skills in getting all that they want, while shortchanging every other partner?
The EU politicians are hedging their bets as well. My suspicion is that they need Britain to stay on in the EU, if only they could manage that outcome with increased sops – but then, not all the 27 EU members will play ball, and such a concessionary approach will also set a bad precedence for the EU in case some other EU nation wants to leave the Union.
Big, unraveling story with not so much of a happy ending for either side is to be played out in the coming days and weeks.
Enjoy the Brexit show.
24th March 2019