As I See It

Are we ‘out’ of Europe, or just a little bit less ‘in’?

Terry portrait with tie“We’re Out”, screamed the headlines on a couple of newspaper front pages on Friday morning. Well, it’s looking a bit more like in-and-out.

Anyone who thinks Britain is now cut adrift, ready to pull up the drawbridge and go-it-alone is kidding themselves.

While the Leavers danced on the grave of Britain’s relationship with the EU, others have been trying to breathe new life into it. Aside from a rather optimistic petition which is said to have gathered 2m signatures demanding a rethink, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon wants talks with the EU to enable Scotland to remain in the EU, whatever that means.

“We are focused on making sure Scotland’s interests are protected,” she said, after the majority of Scots voted to stay in the EU. She said the vote constitutes one of the conditions that makes a second referendum on Scottish independence “highly likely”. However, she has imposed her own conditions on calling such a poll, which includes timing it when there is an expectation of victory.

Businesses want clarification on what happens to the single market, which was long fought over and created the unified terms and conditions that affect everything from trade deals and regulations to holiday pay and subsidies.

A danger is that Britain’s new found independence could turn into isolationism and that, either deliberately or by default, barriers will be erected in a false belief that this gives Britain greater control.

Next chief executive Lord Wolfson supported Brexit, but he has warned against Britain introducing protectionist policies. He said that leaving the EU presented a big opportunity for Britain, but only if it used its status as one of the world’s great trading nations wisely.

Already the banks are getting jittery and HSBC has threatened to move 1,000 workers from London to Paris.

If the UK is not in the single market or the European Economic Area (EEA), it will mean the loss of “passporting” which allows banks to operate without restriction in the 28 signatories to it.

The EEA allows Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway to be part of the single market, on condition that they allow fully for freedom of movement of people. This is likely to be the path that the Scottish government will want to take.

It might, however, stick in the craw of those who voted Leave in the hope of stemming the influx of migrant workers. By signing up to these conditions, accepted by other non-EU countries, all of Britain might find itself subject to the same regulations and other directives that it has just voted to reject.

This may prove inescapable if we are to avoid a period of utter chaos. Trading agreements cannot be undone overnight and, in any case, the likelihood is that few on either side will want to undo the best of these deals if they provide mutual benefits. It is inevitable that efforts will be made to keep these intact.

So, are we really heading for a big split, or will there be a compromise of sorts?

The fact is that Europe is a trading bloc, like it or not. Neither Britain nor the other 27 EU nations can afford to fall out. Britain is simply too big of an economy to be sidelined by the EU and, likewise, Britain needs Europe.

Forget any suggestion that it will be a “quickie divorce”. The process of separation will take anything from two to seven years and the focus will be as much on maintaining a working partnership as on giving Britain the ‘freedom’ it has demanded.

The negotiations for Britain’s exit are therefore more likely to forge a new entente cordial rather than lead to a complete divorce. We will get to share the record collection and see the kids at weekends.

As such it will be more a case of “plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose”, or “the more things change, the more they stay the same”, as we Brits like to say.

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