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Mitigating a hard Brexit

Published on 17th February 2019By Sara Høyrup

In the light of the risk of a no-deal scenario for the British exit from the European Union, the European Commission has adopted a series of contingency proposals on 30 January 2019. The purpose is to mitigate the consecuences of a possible hard split on UK and EU citizen alike, by allowing current cross-boundary activity to run their course.

The proposed measures are temporary and limited in scope, and only the latest in a long string of sector-specific preparation work carried out by the European institutions. They are as follows:

Erasmus+: EU27 and UK youth who are currently in a student exchange program will be able to complete their term and continue receiving funding even after UK’s withdrawal.

Social security: The entitlements of citizens who have exercised their right to free movement will be safeguarded by continuing the social security coordination. This regards periods of insurance, (self) employment or residence that shall be taken into account when computing each individual’s total entitlements to, say, pension.

The EU budget: EU will honour its commitments to UK beneficiaries contracted before 30 March 2019, on the –unlikely– condition that the UK honours its budget obligations to EU for the rest of 2019. The logic behind this is that the European institutions believe that all commitments made by the current 28 Member States should be honoured by all of them, even in a ”no-deal” scenario.

Deal or no-deal

Two Brexit scenarios are possible. The European institutions have endorsed a withdrawal agreement to ensure a ”soft Brexit” with a transition period for the orderly disentanglement of the deeply integrated co-operation between the UK and the other member states. However, the UK has chosen not no ratify the agreement so far, in spite of being one of its principal stakeholders and having negotiated its content over a long period of time. (Curiously, even the negotiator on the other side of the table was in fact British.)

Back home, Prime Minister Theresa May could simply not convince a majority, including her own Conservative party, to back the result. In fact, she was nigh ousted from power in the attempt. While ”hard brexiteers” are ready, it seems, to go the whole hog and simply fall out of the EU by the end of March, remainers continue clamouring for a second referendum, which might very well show a current majority in favour of staying in the EU (in which case quite a lot of courting would have to take place to soften the European institutions). Even Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has taken that stance now, rather belatedly.

Many leavers say they feel cheated and did not understand what was at stake. Nor were they conscious, they say, of the enormous task of leaving. They believed the populist promises made by the xenophobic and EU-hostile UKIP about huge benefits such as a well-functioning public health system. Even then London mayor Boris Johnson seemed rather chocked back in the day that the result he had campaigned so vigorously for actually came through. Suspicion was rife at the time that the maverick Tory had banked on a majority of remainers ensuring he could get away with his rebellious pose without having to deal with its consecuences.

The cliff-edge

If the UK fails to ratify the withdrawal agreement before 30 March 2019, a ”cliff-edge” scenario will arise. UK will leave the EU with no transition period, and EU law will cease to apply to and in the UK with immediate effect.

This could have disastrous effects on British life right away, and in the long run. Businesses have come into existence that sell tinned food to last for months, as if a nuclear war was on its way. In Northern Ireland, Brexit is the new taboo and the great unknown. The hard-won Irish peace is at stake, now that a hard border might divide the isle anew, and skirmishes featuring one variety or other of the IRA have already taken place.

Next to Gibraltar, Spain is lurking with its timeless claim on the Rock, and already last year Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez ”proposed” partaking in the sovereignty over the territory. As for the Falkland Islands, where so many young men lost their lives in a senseless colonial war, Argentina is eyeing them yet again.

If anyone thought that Brexit would make Britain great again, they might want to think again.///