Wednesday, August 31, 2016
Brexit means Brexit
At the end of the day, the one question that should be on the minds of everyone in Theresa May's cabinet as they meet at Chequers this week is, what, if anything, about the EU does Britain actually need, and what, in reality, can be done without. The PM has declared that Brexit means Brexit, and while many have acted as if there was some sort of mystery to the term, all it really means is that Britain is leaving the EU. That means that there will be no UK MEPs, no UK EU Commissioners, and no automatic UK application of EU laws.
As with any relationship, the UK's membership in the EU came with both positives and negatives. This obvious fact has been overlooked by many in recent weeks due to the campaign's freshness in many minds. Brexit has unilaterally cancelled out all of these, but now what must be decided is which positives are necessary, which can be undertaken at the UK level, and which are unnecessary.
What is likely to emerge as the number one concern for this cabinet is the financial passporting for the City of London. Currently, the European headquarters for most banks is London, specifically the small section known as the "City of London", which is independent from Greater London, and with special legal dispensations that ease financial transactions. The loss of the passporting would be a major blow, and the government will be keep to keep banks from moving most of their operations abroad. However, at the same time, the banks will be placing heavy pressure on EU politicians to allow for the passports. Ideally, Britain can achieve this through some sort of fee, which would serve as a victory for EU politicians looking at the departure of one it's biggest contributors.
Other EU positives, like farm subsidies, local government grants, and cultural investment can be done at the UK level. As a net contributor, even if the UK is still paying a fee for financial access, they can afford to replace these subsidies with former EU money. The UK economy would have to shrink by a significant portion for this to not be the case. That seems more and more unlikely to happen every day. If anything, these funds can be used in a better way in the future, as people closer to the ground will be the ones making the decisions.
Other supposed benefits on the EU are the other non-financial sectors of the single market. Here, the UK will have to take what it can get while maintaining it's own sovereignty on freedom of movement. Freedom of movement works well for the rest of the EU, and it would work well for the UK and the core Commonwealth countries as well. However, because of the openness of the British economy, it is a disaster for Britain. In France, it is hard to fire workers, and because of it, it is hard to get a job in the first place. No one wants to make a mistake and hire someone who they will have to deal with long after they've wanted them gone. Other European countries might not be as restrictive as France, but none of them are as open as Britain. Britain's dynamic economy is a magnet for immigrants, and Britain's relative tolerance as compared to Continental Europe is a magnet as well. There are no burkini bans in Brighton, after all. The UK will have to ensure it's ability to decide for itself how many non-Britons are allowed to move there every year, while taking care of the interests of British Citizens who do wish to live and work in Europe. This, by far, will be the hardest square to circle.