LONDON — It has been exactly one year since Britain voted to leave the European Union and all that this year has proven is that Brexit has been a deeply costly waste of time.
Since the referendum result we have seen:
- A year of leadership contests within the two main political parties in Britain;
- Court cases trying to prevent Brexit from happening;
- Embarrassing leaks demonstrating Prime Minister Theresa May’s weak ability to negotiate with the EU.
- Volatile markets, the decimation of the pound, and preparations for job relocations;
- A disastrous general election that has put Britain in line for a Brexit deal that looks very similar to what we have now;
- A government in disarray;
- And finally the possibility that Brexit could be reversed …
It is all a bit pointless. I mean even if you look at the EU referendum results from June 23, 2016, it was not even a resounding victory. Leave won by just 51.89% versus Remain at 48.11%.
Britain started Brexit talks this week and it has all been a bit of a farce. After Prime Minister Theresa May saying repeatedly over the last year that she would go in head first into negotiations with a “hard Brexit” plan — relinquishing full Single Market access in lieu of total control over immigration — her and her chief negotiator buckled during the first day of talks.
Caving in on the first day of talks
Firstly, the UK government has been forced to accept the EU’s timetable for talks and in areas that would not have been at the forefront of Britain’s priorities:
- Agreeing to let 3 million EU citizens that have lived in the UK for 5 years or more as “settled” post-Brexit.
- The Brexit divorce bill where Britain will have to agree to pay up to €99.6 billion (£87 billion) to the EU.
Britain and the EU will have to sort these issues out first — something the EU had continually said it wanted to do before trade negotiations begin. But this is unsurprising now. As my colleague Adam Bienkov pointed out this week:
“Ever since Britain voted to leave the EU senior UK government figures have boasted of the hard line they would take in Brexit negotiations, with everyone from junior ministers to the prime minister herself, warning that they would walk out of talks rather than capitulate to EU demands.
“After just half a day of talks, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier reported that the UK had capitulated to their original demands.”
It is unlikely that Britain will come out strong from the talks, after all, it could not even get the timetable to its liking.
No one wants a “hard Brexit”
Apart from the fact that May and her team are clearly going into talks weak because no one seems to know what they are doing and it is looking likely that May will have step down as prime minister soon, no one seems to want a “hard Brexit” anymore anyway. Not in her own party and government, and not in the electorate.
The latest poll from YouGov for The Times showed that a majority of British people want the UK to prioritise maintaining free trade with Europe over cutting immigration, in the latest sign that the public are turning against a “hard Brexit.”
The poll also found that more voters now believe Britain was wrong to vote to leave the EU. 45% said the UK was wrong to leave compared to 44% who said it was right.
Meanwhile, MPs within her party and key politicians from all other parties are pushing for a “soft Brexit.” It matters what they want because May needs people to vote on the Brexit plan for it to be pushed forward.
May called for a snap election in April. She was hoping to gain a bigger majority for her Conservative Party in Parliament so she could push through her Brexit plan. The greater the majority, the easier it is to push through legislation.
But the Conservatives failed to win 326 seats in the general election — denying them even an outright majority. The party still won a plurality of seats (318) and votes (12,667,213, or 42.8%).
We have been crystal clear with our asks during the Brexit negotiations — mutual two-way market access, an early agreement on a transitional deal to help businesses avoid a cliff-edge
The problem now is that while May is trying to form a minority government through a deal with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, she will still need to persuade most of her party to vote for what she pushes through.
But key members of the party want a soft Brexit. That would seek to preserve access to the single market and freedom of travel but sacrifice the UK’s negotiating power post-Brexit.
On Wednesday, her predecessor, former Prime Minister David Cameron said that May should adopt a “softer” Brexit, and urged her to talk to the main opposition party, Labour, about coming to an agreement over the type of Brexit deal Britain should pursue.
Chancellor Philip Hammond also delivered a heavy blow to Prime Minister Theresa May’s push for a “hard Brexit” and highlighted the dangers of this push and called on her to secure a significant transition period for when Britain leaves the EU on March 29, 2019 — so businesses can adapt to the new environment and avoid sinking the UK’s economy. He repeated previous comments that Britain did not vote for a Brexit “to become poorer or less secure.”
Britain’s financial and professional services industry accounts for 2.2 million jobs across the country and £71.4 billion in tax revenues. It certainly does not want a “hard Brexit” either.
“In terms of what the City wants — economic growth and jobs being created – not much has changed. We have been crystal clear with our asks during the Brexit negotiations — mutual two-way market access, an early agreement on a transitional deal to help businesses avoid a cliff-edge, and maintaining the ability to hire the brightest and best from overseas,” said Catherine McGuinness, Policy Chairman at the City of London Corporation.
“In order to remain the number one global financial centre and to continue investing in businesses across the economy, the City now more than ever must speak up for what it wants from the negotiations. We need a deal which works for the UK and the EU 27, and want to see the Government put the needs of the economy as a priority.”
So, it looks like it is going to be a “soft Brexit” — which is pretty much exactly what we have already, except Britain won’t have a seat at the table and we will have to pay an awful lot of money for the privilege.
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