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Brexit: mission accomplished

House Of Commons To Vote On British Pm May's Plan B For Brexit

It remains to be seen what will happen to those areas which benefited from EU assistance

Dr Louisa Borg Haviaras

THE EU and UK have reached a post-Brexit trade deal, putting an end to years and months of disagreements. The UK is set to exit EU trading rules next Thursday, specifically a year after officially leaving the 27-nation bloc. At a Downing Street press conference, Boris Johnson commented that: “We have taken back control of our laws and our destiny.” The UK was the first country to leave the EU as a result of a public vote, or referendum, which was held in June 2016, to decide whether the UK should be in the EU. Leave won by 52 per cent to 48 per cent which as a victory was not so overwhelming. More specifically in the 18-24 age group, 73 per cent voted to remain whereas in the over 65 age group 60 per cent voted to leave. While London, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain, much of the rest of England and Wales did not

The UK and EU will continue co-operating in all areas of mutual interest, including areas like climate change, energy, security and transport. However, the UK will not be taking part in the Erasmus exchange programme for students.

The above should not have come as a surprise since from the moment the UK entered the EU in 1973 in its third attempt to gain membership, the first two attempts by the UK to join were in 1963 and 1967, the relationship between the UK and the European integration process had not been simple. This is because the UK did not favour a deep version of economic and political integration. Furthermore, while Britain had been a proponent of some European policies it had reservations about others such as the provisions for opting-into/-out of Justice and Home Affairs (JHA) measures. In the 1991-2 Negotiation of Treaty of Maastricht the UK was exempted from some employment provisions through a Social Protocol together with an opt-out provision from the Economic and Monetary Union (EMU) provisions and the Eurozone. In May 1997 the Treaty of Amsterdam incorporated the Schengen Agreements into EU law with opt-out provision for the UK and Ireland. The Directives regulating the movement of Third Country nationals did not apply to the UK and Ireland and Denmark.

On the other hand, Britain was keen on deepening free trade within the EU, particularly on the creation of the Single European Market (SEM) by 1992. British governments have also supported efforts at EU level aiming to promote growth inducing initiatives as well as research and development programmes. Regarding JHA the UK chose not to enter the Schengen Agreements. It could be argued that its opt-out arrangements reveal how protective the UK was of certain interests that the British consider as distinctively national. This was also evidenced by the passing in July 2010 of the European Union Act, which required a referendum for ratification of any future treaty changes involving a transfer of powers from the UK to the EU.

So led by Boris Johnson, the ex-Mayor of London, who surprisingly came out for the Leave campaign the messages were three: “take back control”, “give our money back” and “stop free movement”. But the UK was already enjoying the benefits of a different membership of the EU, not having joined the euro currency, nor being part of the Schengen visa-free travel area. Consequently, to some extent the UK was already on the outside of many of the key EU projects. Now it remains to be seen what will happen to those areas which benefited from EU assistance. Will the UK Government replace that funding?   The UK’s labour, health and safety and environmental rules have been strengthened over the years through its EU membership. Will that continue?  The UK universities had access to the Horizon 2020 research funding scheme, ensuring student exchange via the popular ERASMUS scheme, and general staff mobility making. Will the UK universities continue to be the preferred choice for so many students? Finally, what about EU citizens living in the UK by 31 December 2020 – or from Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway or Switzerland? Their rights will remain the same until 30 June 2021.

However, after that date they should check if they can continue residing in the UK. They will need to become UK citizens if they have not done so far or apply to the EU Settlement Scheme.

From January, there’ll be a new immigration system for foreign citizens except Irish nationals wanting to move to the UK. The government states that it will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally and will aim to attract people who can contribute to the UK economy. One question however remains unanswered: Has the UK taken back control? And if yes control by whom and of what? In any case the phrase ‘no man is an island’ by the famous English metaphysical poet John Donne (1572-1631) should be an answer to the question as to whether the UK will be better off without the EU. Human beings do badly when isolated from others and need to be part of a community in order to thrive.

  • Dr Louisa Borg Haviaras is PhD Oxford Brookes University

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