Rethinking Europe

Battleground Britain: Brexit’s Three Dimensions

Sorting out political Brexit, economic and commercial Brexit as well as geopolitical Brexit.

Credit: Prachatai www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • All Gaul is divided into three parts is how Julius Caesar began the first book of his Gallic Wars. Brexit Britain, like Gaul, is also divided into three parts.
  • The contours of the Brexit tryptich are becoming clearer. Part one is political Brexit, part two is economic or commercial Brexit and part three is geopolitical Brexit.
  • David Davis says a democracy that cannot change its mind ceases to be a democracy. One wonders if the British people will be given a chance to change their mind once the real-life results of Brexit are ready for all to see.
  • Much will depend on the EU’s economic growth and political stability in the period 2019-2024 over which Britain has no control. Brexit is for today, but not necessarily forever.

All Gaul is divided into three parts is how Julius Caesar began the first book of his Gallic Wars. Brexit Britain, like Gaul, is also divided into three parts.

The House of Commons is also divided into three tribes – Tory loyalists who vote for anything Theresa May wants. Labour Loyalist who back Jeremy Corbyn’s line which is as close to Mrs May as makes no difference. And independent Tory and Labour MPs ready to put national interest before party tribalism.

They are the swing MPs who in early skirmishes in the House of Commons made clear there will not be a majority for a No Deal or Crash-out Brexit.

Tories will not vote with Corbyn to defeat May to profit Labour politically as was seen this week. However, if the Labour leadership recalibrates its Brexit line to speak for the majority in Britain that wants the softest of Brexits it can influence national policy. Meanwhile the contours of the Brexit tryptich are becoming clearer.

Political Brexit

Part One is political Brexit. This means leaving the EU Treaty on March 29, 2019. From then on, no more UK ministers, no more UK MEPs, and no UK Commissioner take any part in deciding EU rules, laws and policies. The UK thus forfeits not just its voice and vote, but in some cases also a veto.

After political Brexit has occurred, the House of Commons takes back control. One of its first acts might be to uphold the core commercial interests of Britain throughout the ages – namely to keep open trade access for anything produced in Britain.

The Commons could agree, for example, to stay in the Customs Union on a five-year renewable basis.

Economic Brexit

Part Two is economic or commercial Brexit. The key question here is as follows: How deep and how fast does the UK want a rupture with just-in-time-deliveries, customs free exports of made in Britain Nissans or Airbus wings or TV shows, or an end to foreign direct investment firms based in London?

That may very well involve rupturing direct, unfettered access to the giant European market of half a billion middle class consumers and every public contract open to tender from the UK.

At this stage, few still take seriously the idea of coming up with a trade deal with Trump’s protectionist America. Things look no better with India, another large potential market. India’s top trade demand is visa liberalization for 1.3 billion Indians – a show stopper for any Brexiteer.

Meanwhile, in case you were wondering, the UK presently exports nearly as much to County Cork as to all of South America.

Nothing stops the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox — a lifelong anti-European — turning his department into an export-promotion power-house, but reason ought to prevail. Rest assured that the task can be accomplished without breaking with the EU Single Market or Customs Union.

Once political Brexit is consummated, commercial Brexit will seem less and less necessary. To begin with, during the transition period into 2021 and the possible prolongation Mrs. May has asked for into 2023, there will be endless talks about every sector of Britain’s commercial relationship with its neighbors.

Problems like freedom of movement will need careful handling. But a sensible reform of UK labor market rules so we know who is in Britain and use of existing EU or EEA rules (which reserves all state employment for nationals) and reforming the UK’s broken apprenticeship system (so that we train more skilled workers at home instead of importing them) can make the UK compliant with the rules others follow.

In the end, something like along the lines of the relationship that Norway enjoys with the EU will emerge, though it will be called something else – probably a deep and wide association agreement.

It won’t be easy to get there. Just consider that both pro- and anti-Brexit advocates use the term “vassal state” to describe a Britain that, like Norway or to some extent Switzerland, trades openly with Europe. But it will be done.

Geopolitical Brexit

It is certainly regrettable that, as it stands, no ministers, elected British politicians or officials will ever again attend any meeting where the nations of Europe decide the EU rule-book.

However, Britain with its global reach, professional military and deep intelligence networks can be an active bilateral player. Solution to problems like Galileo or keeping the European Arrest Warrant can be found if they are taken off today’s hothouse Brexit agenda and left to be resolved in what will be a continuing relationship with the EU over the next period.

Conclusion

Like Caesar’s Gaul, Brexit is divided up into three parts – in this case yielding a political Out, a commercial In, a geo-political contact and bilateral partnerships.

This is workable, but still second-best. Given that the Brexit minister David Davis says: “A democracy that cannot change its mind ceases to be a democracy,” one wonders whether the British people will not be accorded a chance to change their mind once the real-life results of the June 2016 plebiscite are ready for all to see. And vote upon?

Much will depend on the EU’s economic growth and political stability in the period 2019-2024 over which Britain has no control. Brexit is for today, but not necessarily forever.

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About Denis MacShane

Denis MacShane is a Contributing Editor at The Globalist. He was the UK's Minister for Europe from 2002 to 2005 — and is the author of “Brexit No Exit: Why Britain Won’t Leave Europe.” [London]. Follow him @DenisMacShane

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