It’s the final- wait Wait WAIT!
I wrote this around mid-March 2017 but didn’t publish because I was worried it was too positive (and a little flippant sounding) in tone. Also what I suggest about NI staying in the single market has been shown to be unworkable since then.
Don’t go triggering the final countdown to Brexit. Not yet. Please.
Listen I’m not trying to throw cold water on your plans Brexiteers I just want to say a couple of things about leaving the EU because 1. I don’t want you to go and 2. I think you need to get certain things in order before triggering Article 50.
So let me begin by saying something positive; of all the member states the UK is probably the one with the best chance of being successful after leaving, because of the Commonwealth and because a dramatic reduction in the fortunes of the world’s fifth largest economy has the potential to destabilise markets around the world which none of the other major players want to see happen.
Also, I don’t believe that the majority of people who voted OUT did so over concerns about immigration. I think that was why some people voted for Brexit but I am strongly convinced that the reason most people voted to leave was because of concerns over the seemingly ever increasing powers of the EU in more and more policy areas of member states, and the lack of any proper dialog between governments and citizens as to why this increasing level of integration is necessary or beneficial.
I think that Brexiteers believed they were voting to get more control over their country. I suspect that some of these people thought it would put a spoke in the wheel of progression of the EU’s powers, so that across Europe governments would react to their vote and say “The world’s fifth largest economy has voted to leave the union… we must find out why and change this!” Yeah… that – that didn’t happen. Sadly.
So in this post I’m going to make a few points about leaving the EU and then in another one I’m going to make a few points about some changes I would like to see happen in the EU. The people of Europe need to start this discussion, our political leaders aren’t going to – I think they’re afraid of what we’re going to propose or demand. Well, that fear is what has brought us to where we are. Or at least it’s no small part of it.
Before Triggering Article 50 consider the following…
The EU is not about to fall apart and will continue without the UK
Ever since the Brexit result I’ve started reading more British newspapers just to have a better idea of what’s going on over there. I’ve noticed that among the pro-Brexit pieces there appears to be a belief that the Euro is going to collapse and the EU itself is in danger of imminent dissolution. Just last week I noticed this headline in the Telegraph:
“We must leave the EU quickly – it is falling apart faster than I thought”
Allister Heath, The Telegraph
I like the Telegraph. Its editorial stance is much more to the right than my own views are but the articles are well written and sometimes right wingers bring some much needed common sense and balance into the debate. The headline above is not an example of this. It’s … it’s daft. I don’t know how else to say it. I can’t understand how people are talking like this.
The EU includes some of the world’s strongest economies. Let’s not forget that, in that sometimes controversial summit of leaders from highly industrialised nations, the G8, besides the UK three other EU countries represented; Germany, France and Italy – and those three countries are all eurozone members.
If you’re a Brexiter you might well be shaking your head now saying “no, no, they’re all about to leave right after us.” No. They’re not.
It’s true that some parties that preach an inward looking and defensive form of nationalism are gaining some support in certain countries. As someone who is very nationalistic I believe that this sort of xenophobic nationalism is what makes some people reject the idea of nationalism. It’s a scary and a brittle thing that demands a sense (delusion?) of superiority in order to feel proud of your national identity. That’s … well to me that seems to be missing the point on everything. I prefer this world where we’re all equal – I’m better than no one and no one is better than me.
The thing is that the benefits of the single market are so obvious that even these anti-immigrant parties, while they would like to weaken the free movement of workers and enforce external borders, want to remain in the union, albeit a horribly changed one. But I believe that the memory of just what this kind of defensive and triumphalist nationalism can bring is still alive enough in Europe that we won’t go there. We just need to remember that it’s inequality, especially economic inequality, that’s making life difficult and that is what we need to be combating and not some “other” or “them”.
The EU is not about to fall apart. The community was in existence 15 years before the UK joined and you had to push for membership. You did so because the economic benefits of being part of this union are massive. I’m not saying this to rain on your parade I’m saying it because it’s going to be difficult to make a success out of a hard Brexit – anyone saying different is either deluded or lying – but it is possible that you will be successful and it in no way requires that the EU falls apart – in fact a break up of the EU would definitely make your future success harder to achieve.
The only way the EU’s dissolution would make Brexit “better” is because you would have started trade negotiations with countries outside the EU ahead of the other countries currently in the EU – and that isn’t really much of an advantage. So stop that crazy talk – it sounds … crazy.
Keep in mind the benefits and freedoms you stand to lose on leaving the single market
While the UK is a member of the single market UK citizens have the right to move to and work in any part of the EEA. You are guaranteed to have the same benefits and entitlements of that country’s citizens while you are working there. You can move to any part of the EEA and set up business there. While holidaying in some European country you could identify a need for a certain product or service while you are there – and guess what there is absolutely nothing stopping you from setting up business there and producing or selling that good or providing that service. Isn’t that great?
You can access training or education in other EEA countries and, provided you meet the eligibility criteria, you pay the same amount of fees as the citizens from that country. Did you know that in Austria there is free education up to Phd level? Phd level?!? And that many EEA countries, while they may might not have free third level education, do offer university courses in English? For example, did you know that the University of Veterinary Medicine Budapest in Hungary offers courses in English? And that if you qualify for student grants in your home country you can use that funding for courses in other EEA countries? Pretty amazing, right?
There are many more benefits, in fact far too many for me to list here, I’m just going to point out one more – the benefit of the European Health Insurance Card system that guarantees you access to emergency medical services for free when you are visiting another EEA country.
Wait until the end of 2018 before triggering Article 50
The EU’s current multi-annual financial framework runs from 2014 – 2020. The heads of EU states working in the EU Council agree on a 7 year budgetary framework which sets the maximum amount of commitment appropriations in the EU budget each year for broad policy areas (“headings”) and fixes an overall annual ceiling on payment and commitment appropriations. I know nothing about it really. I copied most of that from the europa website but I knew that the current budgetary framework finishes with 2020.
If the UK triggers Article 50 at the end of 2018 and you decide to leave the EU and the single market you’ll leave 2 years later in 2020 – unless the EU council (all the other EU states) agree to extend the negotiating timetable. Like I said I don’t really know anything about EU budgets but if the UK leaves at the end of 2020 wouldn’t that mean that you will naturally honour any commitments entered into for the 2014-2020 financial framework, and receive any funding already provisioned for you, and so the leaving bill should be much less? I really have no idea if that’s the case – it’s just a thought.
The other reason for waiting until late 2018 before triggering
the ticking time bomb clause article 50 is that the US should begin gearing up for the next election cycle then. It might be a good idea to be negotiating the deal when you can ensure it’s agreeable to all serious contenders in the 2020 presidential race.
It’s anyone’s guess how Trump’s tenure will progress but should his policies continue to be as divisive as the ones we’ve seen so far it is possible that a candidate could win simply by promising to sweep away all the changes he’s made – including taking a surprisingly anti-EU line. Yeah, O.K. most Americans probably don’t care that much about or are even all that aware of the EU – but in terms of international relations, having a strong alliance between the EU and the US seems like … a good idea to say the least? I don’t know – I would have assumed that was a given until recently.
Leaving the Single Market means customs and hard borders between the UK and EU countries
Which means a hard border on the island of Ireland which means a very likely return to violence in Northern Ireland – and perhaps other parts of the UK and Ireland.
In case you’re in mainland Britain reading this thinking “hey that’s cool I think it would be really great if Ireland was reunited” … um … O.K. Thank you. The thing is the majority of people in Northern Ireland don’t want to be part of a united Ireland but a very sizeable minority also don’t want to see a return of any sort of border because – well, to be honest I don’t think even unionists want to see a return of the border… I don’t know.
Would I like to see a united Ireland? If there was massive support for it across the communities in Northern Ireland – I’m talking about 90%+ in favour, then yes I’d be delighted. Honestly though, it doesn’t matter if there are different governments in different parts of Ireland because Ireland was never really united but I believe we’ve always been one nation. As far as I’m concerned if you call this island home you’re Irish. And there are Northern Irish people who don’t feel that way at all. Some feel Irish, some feel British and some don’t feel either Irish or British they identify as Northern Irish.
But even on a technical level the identity of Northern Ireland isn’t straightforward. Northern Irish people can hold either an Irish or UK passport or both if they choose. I think there is a very good case to be made for having Northern Ireland remain in the single market. Many companies based in the UK who sell to EU markets are opening up bases in different member states to keep a foot inside the single market. If Northern Ireland were to remain in the single market companies already in the UK could be enticed to set up their EEA base in Northern Ireland which would greatly benefit both the economy of Northern Ireland and the UK as a whole.
And of course if Northern Ireland were to stay in the single market there would be no border and things would carry on much the same as they have done over the last nearly 20 years now – except of course Northern Ireland would end up much better off economically speaking. Meanwhile Britain would be free to explore new avenues for trade with different countries, perhaps progress the Commonwealth to a customs union, who knows? All while still having a base in the UK that was still in the single market. I know. Enticing prospect, isn’t it?
Don’t jump off the cliff. Discuss, plan, gather the best ideas together and soar.
As I was writing that point on Northern Ireland of course I couldn’t help but think about Scotland. I feel so bad for Scotland. But I feel very glad for them that at least they’ve got politicians who are taking this very seriously, drawing up plans and making some very valid points – only to be pretty much dismissed and ignored. I’m sorry. I don’t want to be negative but – from the outside looking in that’s how it seems. By the way if you voted IN, in case you’re not aware Nicola Sturgeon has invited you all to come join them in Scotland. Nationalism can be inclusive – and it’s lovely to see a politician demonstrating that so well.
The United Kingdom is made up of Great Britain and Northern Ireland – so technically Northern Ireland isn’t part of Britain it’s part of the UK. Britain is made up of England, Scotland and Wales. Just mentioning that so the next sentence makes sense.
So I was feeling kinda bad about suggesting Northern Ireland should stay in the single market while Britain exits because while Northern Ireland voted IN so did Scotland and it seems so unfair that they could be dragged out against their will.
I started searching online and I came across this article about Gordon Brown’s federal UK plan and honestly although I just skimmed through it I think it deserves attention. As I glanced through I was struck with the thought – this is exactly what’s missing from the Brexit strategy; a plan for something bold, new and transformative.
I have no idea if devolving power for different policy areas to different regions of the UK is a good one or even workable I only know that it really is something new. I’m not saying I agree with his plan. To be honest, I don’t fully understand it. But the fact that this is new bold thinking – that’s what I support. Also I really think it is possible for Northern Ireland to remain in the EEA while Britain leaves but might it also be possible for Scotland to stay in the EEA?
There are a lot of interesting possibilities. And there isn’t any deadline for you to meet other than the one of your own making – that will change though once you trigger article 50. The Brexit vote has no effect at EU level. It was a domestic decision. Take the time to discuss with citizens and with the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish (please sort it out) assemblies, develop an exciting, progressive and inclusive strategy that everyone can be proud of supporting.
I thought when I started writing this that I would point out everything citizens stand to lose by leaving the EU but that isn’t where this ended up and really I’m glad because I think, for whatever reason, the UK is now determined to fully leave the EU. I wish you weren’t leaving. I think the UK’s laissez faire approach nicely balances the more interventionist styles of France and Germany. But things change. So if you are determined to go take the time to do it right and make it glorious.
I went to youtube to get the embed code for Europe’s The Final Countdown and somehow got distracted and ended up watching the video below which made me think – yeah maybe I shouldn’t have been quite so positive. The last time this kind of thing happened to me was when I wrote a post basically saying something along the lines of “Calm Down America Donald Trump could be grand” and then I went onto twitter – I forget why – and the first thing I saw was a gif of Honey Boo Boo saying “Don’t tell me to calm down” or something along those lines. It seemed like a sign not to post the thing but I did and regretted it when it turned out that actually Trump meant all the stuff he said and worse. I took it down within a fortnight of posting it. Yeah… so… bit freaked out now really.
O.K. I got to say this. I know that the majority of people who voted in the June 23rd referendum voted OUT but 5 different territories were polled – England, Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Gibraltar – and 3 out of the 5 territories voted IN. I’m not sure how the UK operates but if all the regions are meant to be of equal importance to the union, shouldn’t the fact that the majority of territories voted in favour of remaining in the EU prompt a second vote?
Generally I strongly disagree with holding referendums twice but in this case I think there is a sound reason for it because I don’t think the EU is going to break up – but the UK just might.
I hate being negative but I really regretted ignoring that Honey Boo Boo gif before.