The surprise vote of the British people to leave the European Union known as “Brexit” has caused much confusion, turmoil, and regret throughout Ireland, Britain and all of Europe. The reaction to the decision by the UK both inside and outside of Europe has caused serious doubt that a full Brexit will ever happen. It certainly won’t happen in the form that the people who voted for it expect it to.
Many of the most outspoken advocates of Britain leaving Europe are now modifying their positions as they come to realize what exactly it will mean.
The Wall Street Journal reports that European Central Bank policy makers now warn that “Brexit could affect the world economy in unpredictable ways and it was too soon to discuss stimulus measures.” For such experts to express concern but not know what to do about it underlines the difficulties that British and European leaders are facing.
In Northern Ireland, for instance, Stormont’s First Minister, Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP and a loud voice in favor of leaving, has signed a letter with Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness, no fan of Brexit, that cautions the London government against placing restrictions on free trade and open people movement with the Republic of Ireland.
Today a business in Belfast can hire a man or women from Dublin to fill one of its jobs. But the Brexit voters are opposed to “migrants” crossing the border. Northern Irish employers want continued access to both skilled and unskilled labor in the South. They also do not want to pay customs tariffs when they sell their goods to the Republic. No one seems to want a return to closed borders between the North and South. But that is the subject of negotiation.
The financial services industries in London is planning their moves if Brexit begins to encumber their ability to operate throughout Europe. Merrill Lynch is looking at several new locations to move at least part of their operations. The CFA institute – a Global association of investment professionals – conducted a survey of 2,000 of its members indicating that Dublin would be an attractive alternative to London after Brexit.
These issues and many more will have to be discussed with EU leaders within the overall talks determining border control policies between all EU countries and Britain. Not an easy task when European negotiators are already offended by the Brexit vote and want Britain to pay a price to help discourage others from leaving the EU.
One of the most significant problems with Brexit is the time and effort that it will take to accomplish its aims. Britain must invoke Article 50 of the EU agreement, thus notifying the Europeans that it wants to leave. The new prime minister of Britain, Theresa May, says that notification invoking Article 50 will not occur until sometime next year. After that there is a two-year negotiation period, bringing implementation to 2019 at the earliest. It is estimated that some 400 British and European civil servants will be necessary to form the team to negotiate.
Lord Kerslake, Britain’s former head of civil service, has been quoted in the British newspapers as saying Brexit will take at least five years “because of its staggering complexity.” He said he would be amazed if it were completed before 2021. This is disastrous for businesses that must plan in the long term for their companies. Opel, the German car maker, announced that it is cutting its workers’ hours this year because it expects Brexit to hurt its UK sales. Other businesses are cutting payroll and limiting investment until they see more definite plans.
European leaders Angela Merkel of Germany, President Hollande of France, and Matteo Renzi, prime minister of Italy, met last month to discuss strategy and the positions they will tale before entering negotiations with British leadership. All of this is going on while the real business of running governments continues. Even the various security forces must think about how they will cooperate going forward.
The shame of Brexit is that it is unnecessary. If British political leadership had properly informed its people, millions of Euros and British pounds would have been saved and the economy would not have to suffer such damage. Britain will still have to trade with the world and invite expert employees and tourists to visit. The British people cannot afford to wall themselves off from Europe.
For all that, it is highly doubtful that Brexit will live up to its promises to them.