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The Pains of Cherry Picking a Suitable Brexit

By Morak Babajide-Alabi

The United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union (EU) is proving not to be as straight forward as citizens had thought it would be. Right from June 24, 2016 when the result of the Referendum vote was announced, the process had become longer and somehow cumbersome than anticipated. There seems to be a gang up of some UK political leaders, agencies and other countries involved to deny the citizens of their true hearts desires to leave the union.

Before the vote, the Remain Group (comprising of people with sympathies to stay in the EU) cried themselves hoarse, warning that exiting the union would not be an easy task. They tried as much as possible to make point that continued membership of the supranational politico-economic union was more beneficial than an exit. While they sounded alarming at the time, events in recent times have supported all the warnings.

On the other hand, the Leave Group members, though polarised, are still adamant that the citizens have made the right choice and nothing should scupper this decision. However the group has had to contend with the radical elements who wants total break away and those who are okay with eating their cakes and having it – exit the union but still have access to the benefits.

Over a year and the voters are asking questions if there would ever be an exit. At the time of the referendum many thought they were voting for a straight exit that would be done and dusted within a few months and thereby give them the independence they have been promised. So many jobless and probably unemployable citizens voted on the propaganda that an exit from the union would guarantee those jobs. They are now eager for the government to deliver on this promise.

These set of voters are getting confused by the various terminologies that have suddenly cropped up. Before the referendum vote, there were no such “coinages” as “hard” or “soft” Brexit, but these words dominate every discussion about EU now. Economic and political leaders are now lined on opposite sides of what they have termed hard and soft Brexit.

On March 29, the Prime Minister, Theresa May triggered Article 50 therefore allowing the country to begin negotiations that will lead to an amicable exit.  Although the citizens had voted an exit, as part of the conditions of membership, this clause had to be triggered. From this date, the UK government has two years to complete negotiations. The UK has also made history by being the first country in the union to use this article. As things stand in the EU now, it may not be the last country to do so.

While the government is promising a good deal for the citizens, the bureaucrats in Brussels are busy working out how exit will not bring the union down. They are tactically making a hard for the UK to have a soft landing thereby encouraging other countries to follow. The task of a “good deal” is trusted to David Davis, Brexit Secretary, and a Conservative Party member who almost became the leader of the party in 2005, losing to the youthful David Cameron.

Despite his impressive career as MP and former shadow executive member, he has not found it easy leading the country out of the Union. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker was reported to have questioned Davis’s role in the negotiations as he “did not regard his direct involvement in these negotiations as his priority”. This is not a good testimonial for the leader of the UK team.

The surprising result of the last snap General Election called by May has affected in many ways the direction of the exit negotiations. While the election was called to further strengthen her hands in government, instead she almost got her fingers burnt in the aftermath.  The loss of majority in government and the rising profile of the opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn have greatly limited the influence of the Prime Minister. May might have been the greatest winner in the immediate post-Brexit with her emergence as the leader of the Tory Party after the resignation of Cameron; she obviously is not winning this exit game.

Last week, Corbyn announced a U-turn to support UK staying in the single market through a transitional period after the exit. This is a significant about turn for a party that had once canvassed a hard exit. Disappointed at this, Nigel Farage, the fiery former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party {UKIP) condemned Corbyn. He said: “I was starting to think that we were going to see the real, principled Corbyn. The man that we knew had been a Tony Benn supporter. And an opponent of the European project.”

Corbyn and his leadership team are definitely routing for an all-out war with the Tory government and this new lead will give Davis, May and the entire Tory party members some serious sleepless nights. Last week it emerged that the government appealed to top business owners to make a stand on the approach to the EU exit. Unfortunately there was not much comfort from them.

During the campaign towards the referendum, Mrs May had kept her views to herself. While she could not be openly identified with the Leave Group, her stance changed once she emerged as Prime Minister. She immediately laid down the rules for the divorce and the slogan “Brexit means Brexit” defined her determination to deliver. She said “The country voted to leave the European Union, and as prime minister I will make sure that we leave the European Union.”

The question right now is at what price is the UK leaving the union? The most contentious of the negotiations is whether UK should remain in the single market and customs area or not. Basically the idea of a membership  of the EU are a free trade area; a customs union and a market in which non-tariff barriers to trade regulations, standards and the like are almost non-existent.  You will think, technically, a vote for an exit of the union ends all the privileges.

The Prime Minister seems to see sense in this, but she has her own plan which is not liked by other EU countries. May’s government wants a bespoke trade agreement with the EU that will ensure UK enjoys the benefits of a single market without the responsibility of free migration within the union. This has not gone down well with other members who are wondering why UK thinks she could cherry pick terms in a union her citizens had freely voted to exit. It is morally wrong for UK to want only the benefits of union without caring for the burden as well. The other EU members are indeed ensuring it is not going to be an easy ride for the UK.

There may be some hurdles right now on the path of “independence” slowing down the momentum, at the end of the day “something” will definitely have to be worked out.

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