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Brexit Hangover Still Dominating Conversation In UK

If you spent a few days in Britain, as I did last week, you would come out thinking that Britain is still in the Brexit mix-up.

As the British pound tumbles on foreign exchange markets, its economy showing signs of slowing down and financial institutions and international companies beginning to express intentions to exit Britain and relocate their headquarters in Europe, and with no political strategy to exit, Britain is living in a vacuum. The country is engulfed in uncertainty of unprecedented magnitude, for no one expected or predicted the British will to vote to exit the EU.

In this vacuum, Brexit is the “talk of the town”, in this case, country – from discussion in parliament, to more than one daily story in every major newspaper, and discussions among political, business, political and legal expert groups on how to implement the Brexit referendum results.

The British voted in a referendum in June to leave the 500 million people European Union of 28 countries. Now they are getting cold feet but are unsure what to do next.

The referendum to leave the EU has taken its political toll. Prime Minister David Cameron, who called the referendum hoping and urging Britons to vote to stay in EU, resigned immediately after the defeat. Former London Mayor Boris Johnson – an eager contender for British Conservative Party leadership, put his plans on hold and has since been appointed foreign secretary in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government. Ironically, he is dealing with the same European leaders he did not want to work with. The pro-exit UKIP, the United Kingdom Independent Party, leader Nigel Farage resigned and the party has since gone through two interim leaders. It seems leaders of all political stripes fled the scene, immediately after the referendum defeat, perhaps knowing not what to do next.

Almost four months after Britons voted to leave the EU, the country’s Prime Minister or political leadership has no clue on how to proceed. Britain has to invoke Article 50 to start negotiations to leave the EU. This process will take two years. Prime Minister Theresa May is being asked to share her exit strategy in Parliament. But she has produced nothing other than to assure Parliament that it will have a say on the final plan of action to leave the EU.

Prime Minister May has promised to negotiate Britain’s exit on favourable terms for Britain. But, the Europeans may not be so willing to oblige. For instance,, Britain wants to restrict entry of European workers, while wanting to keep intact barrier-free trade advantages. It is unlikely the Europeans will oblige. Britain cannot pick and choose.

Immigration into Britain, primarily from European countries, was the dominant issue that drove many to vote to leave the EU. Furthermore, the EU will argue that it cannot allow each country to pick and choose what it finds agreeable. These decisions are negotiated and binding. A “buffet” approach defeats the purpose of an economic union..

Some in political circles are asking that Parliament should vote whether Article 50 should be implemented. But, others argue this will be sabotaging the will of the people who expressed their desire to “leave” the EU. Parliament cannot be now asked to subvert the referendum result.

Meanwhile Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has declared her intention to draft a Bill to be presented to Scottish Parliament to hold another referendum seeking separation from the United Kingdom. Scotland will then apply for EU membership. A majority of Scottish voted to stay in the EU in the June referendum.

The only bright sign is that, with the pound plummeting almost 20 per cent, tourists are flocking to London, for Christmas bargain shopping. But, that too, is temporary.

Amidst this British Brexit drama, a story appeared in The Times of London of October 22, headlined “Trade deal failure reduces Canadian minister to tears”! It contained a stark warning: “The failure to agree the EU-Canada deal – vetoed by a single Belgian region – indicates the pitfalls Britain will face as it attempts to forge a new commercial relationship with the EU.”

Canada may have come out fine in dealing with the EU, in signing the Canada-EU agreement. However,  as for the United Kingdom, after all that is done, said and negotiated, what may be left of once United Kingdom or Great Britain, may be “Little” England!

By Bhupinder Liddar

Bhupinder S. Liddar is a retired Canadian diplomat and former publisher/editor of “Diplomat & International Canada” magazine and can be reached at bsliddar@hotmail.com or visit www.liddar.ca

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