On Tuesday, July 31, the chief spokesman for Britain’s auto industry issued a stern warning against a “no-deal Brexit,” which, he said, “would be seriously damaging to the industry not just in the UK but in Europe as well.”
Mike Hawes, the chief executive of the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT) is one of a growing chorus of business leaders worried about the prospect that talks between Britain and the EU will fail.
On June 23, 2016, the United Kingdom voted “Leave” rather than “Remain” in a referendum regarding UK and EU, with a roughly 52/48 split. The Kingdom’s politics ever since have been dominated by the fall-out. Roughly speaking, there has been talk of a “soft Brexit” (wherein the UK would remain within the European Economic Area, so that although it would leave the European Union, the amount of disruption would be mitigated) in contrast to a “hard Brexit” (after which the UK would no longer be part of the European single market in any sense, and would trade with Europe on the same terms that the US or Belize does — i.e. on terms set by the World Trade Organization).
A soft Brexit would put the UK in largely the situation of Norway or Switzerland, with one foot in the ‘European door,’ the other out. Such a deal would have to be secured by an agreement between London and Brussels in the ongoing settlement talks. The government of Prime Minister May has made some effort to discuss trade issues with EU member states one-on-one, but that has been a notable failure. The response of the member states has been: the European Commission speaks for us.
A no-deal Brexit means the hardest possible Brexit. Furthermore, ‘crunch time’ has arrived. As things stand there will be an exit in the spring of 2019, settlement or not. And the general view is that talks will have to result in a finished agreement this fall in order to have time for the ratification process for the Mother of Parliaments and the EU member states by spring.
The debate has unfolded very much on conventional left/right terms. The centrist position is for a ‘soft Brexit.’ The leftist position is to undo the referendum results altogether and have no Brexit, perhaps even to work toward fuller integration of the UK and EU. The rightist position: let the Brexit be as ‘hard’ as it needs to be. The far right position: make it even a harder break than it needs to be.
From the Right
According to many on the right in the UK, the government of Theresa May is floundering politically because it has been too wishy-washy about Brexit. As “Leave.EU” put it on twitter, “When you break your election promises, voters tend to punish you.”
The United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) acquired 3,200 new members in the month of July, apparently from the ranks of people who believe that the Tories are being insufficiently strident in the assertion of British sovereignty
A meme doing the rounds in social media portrays a blackboard lying on top of a Union Jack. On the blackboard, in chalk, is written, “It was clear why people wanted to leave the EU … What they didn’t want to do was to exit in name only … leave all the constraints of EU membership only to sign up for them under a different name.”
A new phrase has surfaced, a “blind Brexit.” This refers to the possibility that nothing will be resolved by late March 2019. There will be no agreement. So the country will formally leave the embrace of the EU without knowing the consequences. This doesn’t seem to be anyone’s plan, it would be the default result if nothing else happens. But … it isn’t necessarily everyone’s fear, either. Michael Gove, a Tory cabinet member, has said that it is the least bad option.
Is isn’t clear just how blind the “blind” Brexit will be. The place of Britain in the “European Aviation Safety Agency” is one of the subjects of discussion. This is one tweeted view. And this is another.
Why are the ‘Leavers’ so eager to leave the EU, even (if necessary) blindly? The heart of the matter may be in the currency. Britain is determined to keep the pound, not to adopt the euro. There are grounds for concern that Britain could not long keep the pound without also abandoning a leadership role in the councils of the EU — that the nations of the zone that share that currency have taken and will consolidate a lead role for themselves. This, Brexit is a way of peremptorily removing any temptation to abandon the pound now or down the line.
There were of course, other factors. A writer in Commentary, the neoconservative flagship, voice of the sort of conservatism often accused of “globalism” by other conservatives, said in 2016 that “Britons might never have voted to leave the European Union had it not been for the refugee crisis that hit Europe as a result of the Syrian civil war.” The writer, Max Boot, thereby blamed US President Obama for Brexit and any dysfunctions it may cause, because the refugee crisis itself stems, in Boot’s view, from Obama’s unwise decision not to intervene in the Syrian war.
From the Left
Left of center, commenters make many points about Brexit. For today, we might focus on three of the more ubiquitous observations: process; substance; Scotland.
First, as to process, many believe the 2016 vote was itself fraudulent, the product (this notion will be familiar to Americans) of Russian interference. Those pressing this point maintain that around the time of the Brexit referendum, more than 156,000 Russian bots and troll accounts were tweeting in support of departure, to create the self-fulfilling impression of a populist groundswell for that result.
Second, the left is almost unanimous that Brexit was a bad idea on its merits, is still a bad idea, and that the difficulty Prime Minister May is having negotiating a deal with the Continent is not a personal failing of hers, but a failing of the whole idea she feels bound to pursue.
Leftists have been aided of late by the comments of Mark Carney, the Governor of the Bank of England, who says that the EU doesn’t seem willing to help the Brits with the “soft Brexit” some of them want, doesn’t seem willing to give them Norway’s deal. Further, that prospect clearly bothers Carney: “The possibility of a no deal is uncomfortably high at this moment.”
Third, the left often links Britain’s impending exit from the EU with Scotland’s proposed exit from the UK. Because the one is happening, the other should happen or must be allowed to happen. In 2016, Scotland voted by a large margin to remain in the EU, and the Scots can avoid the one separation only by accomplishing the other. The situation may remind Americans of the separation of West Virginia from Virginia; the western counties of Virginia wanted to remain in a broader Union that the buk of Virginia was determined to leave.
Howard Hardiman tweets, “I live on a remote Scottish island and we are starting to plan food stores and increased food production because of a Brexit which Scotland consistently opposed.”
After a hard Brexit, Hardiman claims, “I and others will suffer and likely die without medication.”