BREXITEERS celebrated after Britain’s permanent representative to the EU delivered Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit letter to the EU Council President Donald Tusk on Wednesday. They would be given their country back, as they had argued during last year’s referendum campaign that was high on emotion and rather low on rationality. The strange thing is that nobody could say with any degree of certainty whether the Britain that would cease being part of the EU would be a better place for its citizens. It is a big question.
Although sterling lost some of its value in the aftermath of the referendum, Brexiteers were quick to point out that the dire consequences predicted by the Remain camp had not materialised and that the economy had been largely unaffected. It was a correct point, but the reality was that nothing had changed except expectations for the medium term as Britain would carry on being a member of the EU for another two years (almost three as it turned out) still enjoying the benefits of free trade with the rest of the bloc, London’s status as Europe’s leading financial centre.
Whether Britain would be able to hold on to these advantages in two years’ time nobody could say because nobody knows how the divorce negotiation would pan out. Further complicating matters is the fact that the EU has turned down May’s demand, contained in her six-page letter, that exit negotiations be held in parallel with talks about the new EU-UK relationship. Chancellor Angel Merkel said “the negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship” and “only when this question is dealt with can we begin talking about our future relationship.”
In other words, even when the divorce settlement is agreed in two years from now, everyone would still be in the dark about the future relationship. There have been reports of granting Britain a three-year transition period, at most, to cushion the effects of Brexit, while a free trade deal appears extremely unlikely. In the meantime, May would have to deal with Scotland’s demand for another independence referendum and find an arrangement for the monitoring of the Irish borders as well.
It could be as long as six years after the referendum that Britons would have a full picture of their country’s new relationship with the EU and its impact. By then, the decision would irreversible. In the next two years, however, there is a possibility that Article 50 could be revoked. The European Parliament said in a draft position paper, seen by Reuters, that Brexit could be revoked; the draft would require the approval of the European Parliament.
For now, however, Britain is heading for the exit door, not really knowing what awaits once it goes through.