Less than a month until B-Day. Officially, the UK is set to leave the European Union on 29 March 2019, though it’s looking increasingly likely that this timeline will be pushed back as the British government requests an Article 50 extension (even if it’s purely a “technical extension” in order to buy time to implement any deal).
Maybe it’s time to finally decide what Brexit should look like in practice? So far, the negotiations have been focused on the UK’s divorce arrangements, two-year transition period (during which the UK will essentially be a non-voting member of the EU), and the Northern Irish backstop, which kicks in if the UK ends the transition period without a deal. The “political declaration” outlining the future relationship between the EU and the UK still lacks important details about what Brexit will actually look like in practice. So, what should it look like? How should we define a successful Brexit?
What do ours readers think? We had a comment from Maia, who is pessimistic about the whole Brexit process and says she can’t see how it can possibly be a success. Is she right to be so critical?
To get a response, we spoke to Martina Anderson, a Sinn Féin MEP from Northern Ireland. The question of the Irish border and the backstop has become an absolutely key issue in the Brexit negotiations, and Sinn Féin campaigned in the 2016 referendum on the side of Remain. So, Martina Anderson may very well agree with Maia that Brexit cannot be a success, but what would the “least-worst” Brexit outcome look like to her?
To get another perspective, we also spoke to Pieter Cleppe, Head of the Brussels Office of the think-tank Open Europe, which campaigns for a reformed EU and a free-trading, globalised Britain post-Brexit. What would he say to Maia? Could he tell us what a successful Brexit might look like?
Well, at Open Europe we were always in favour of UK membership of the EU, but we wanted to reform the EU to make sure the British preferred to stay in the EU. But that didn’t happen, and it couldn’t happen because the only choice the UK public had was to stay in the EU as it was, un-reformed, or to leave.
Now, to answer your question, how can Brexit be a success? I think it will be a success if the current trade arrangements and trade flows between Britain and mainland Europe remain intact, and if Britain manages to do better than the EU in terms of opening up trade to the world. These are, of course, very ambitious targets to be achieved; first of all, we need therefore to have a good deal between the EU and the UK, and secondly the UK needs to do a good job then to close trade deals with all kinds of countries, like for example China but also India, with whom the EU have so far failed to conclude a trade deal.
Does he see a tension between those two aims? The closer the UK is to the EU’s Single Market, the more difficult it might be to forge independent trade deals with other countries because the UK could find itself bound by EU rules and regulations. Is it possible to have both significant EU market access and a truly independent trade policy?
I think it should be possible. If you look at a country like Switzerland, it has quite intense trade with the EU even if it does not take on all the European Union’s rules – it is suffering some markets restrictions as a result of that – and yet it also manages to trade with the world. It has been quite successful with that, so if the Swiss can do that there is no reason, at least in theory, why the British would not be able to do that. But, of course, it also depends on a certain flexibility coming from the EU, and I think the EU will have to accept that, indeed, it cannot ask that the UK takes over all of the rules of the EU, over which it won’t be able to have a say anymore after Brexit, in order for the trade flows to remain open. I think the condition for that is also that if the EU accepts that if trade is restricted between the EU and the UK then this will not only then hurt the British but also the EU, because of course trade is mutually beneficial. And this is something that is certainly not 100% agreed in mainland Europe.
Finally, we had a comment from Gavin, who thinks that Brexit could lead to the breakup of the UK, with Scotland and Northern Ireland leaving the union. Is he right? How would Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson respond?
What would a successful Brexit look like? If you don’t support Brexit, what’s your “least-worst” outcome? And, if you do support Brexit, how would you judge success? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!