Britain is preparing to divorce the European Union (EU). After two years of negotiations with the EU, however, a withdrawal agreement proposed by Theresa May, Prime Minister (PM) of Britain, was rejected by a large margin in the British Parliament on January 15th. In particular, the result of the vote was the largest ever in the history of the British Parliament with 202 votes in favor and 432 against. After the result was reported, the entire EU was also shocked by the large margin. Britain, which was thrown into turmoil after the Brexit referendum, is again falling into chaos. Only a few weeks are left for the official Brexit (March 29th, 2019), is Britain ready for Brexit?
What is the Withdrawal Agreement?
The negotiation for Brexit officially started on March 29th, 2017. Even if 51.9% of British supported Brexit in the 2016 referendum, the British government must declare its intention to leave the EU according to Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. If Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty was declared, a country desiring to leave the EU has to negotiate with the EU for up to two years from the declaration date. As a result, Theresa May, who became Prime Minister of Britain following David Cameron, who resigned after the 2016 referendum, activated Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29th, 2017. David Davis and Dominic Raab, a former Brexit secretary, and Michael Barnier, a French diplomat and a representative of EU, conducted the negotiation as chief executive.
After the 2 years of negotiations, the 585 pages of withdrawal agreements came out. The keywords of the withdrawal agreement are as follows:
Citizen’s Right, Divorce Bill, and Irish Border.
Citizen’s right is dealt at the beginning of the agreements. It is one of the important keywords as Brexit will change both the rights (which ensure to study, work and live in EU countries) of EU citizens in Britain and British in EU countries. For this reason, their current rights will last until 2022, according to the declared withdrawal agreement.
Divorce Fee is a payment of Britain government to European Union after Brexit. The divorce fee is estimated to £39 billion (which is about $ 58 billion), according to the agreement. It includes Britain’s contribution to EU by 2020, the payment of outstanding commitments and financing liabilities.
Irish border refers a border between Northern Ireland (which is a territory of Britain) and Ireland. This region had frequently experienced bloodshed between an independence group that desires unification with Ireland and a group that wanted to remain in Britain. However, as the EU was founded and guaranteed the free interaction between these two regions, the fierce conflict was settled. However, if Brexit becomes a reality, there is a high possibility of bloodshed again in Northern Ireland and Ireland.
Why was the Agreement Rejected?
In particular, not only the lawmakers from the opposition Labour Party supporting a Hard-Brexit, but also a considerable number of lawmakers from the governing Conservative Party, also voted against it. One of the main reasons why many lawmakers voted against is the concern about the Irish border. Since the Irish border is a significant region, there are 3 suggestions regarding the Irish border after Brexit. Currently, the negotiation adopted the suggestion to leave these two regions as a common regulatory area (customs union between North Ireland and EU). This is referred to as the so-called Backstop. It can prevent the conflicts between the two regions, however, the critics say there is virtually no reason to leave the EU and it creates a barrier within British territory. For this reason, many have discussed a soft border, which does checks with the support of technology and a hard border, which has a custom barrier between Northern Ireland and Ireland. An issue about the Divorce Bill also gained a lot of criticisms among the members of the parliament since £39 billion was a huge compared to the annual budget of the British Interior Department (which is £9 billion)
After May was defeated in the vote, Jeremy Corbyn, who is the Labour Leader and a strong supporter of Hard Brexit, argued to conduct a no-confidence vote on May who has been in charge of the rejected proposal for over 2 years. In the no-confidence vote, which was held the next day, 325 of the lawmakers showed their trust in her (against 306 of them). Fortunately, May survived and could lead the negotiation with EU.
Meanwhile, the EU has confirmed its position that there is no further renegotiation or extension of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. In particular, President Emmanuel Macron of France said he opposed the re-negotiation of an extension of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Many media who have analyzed his remarks to mean that he would expect France's role in the EU to become bigger due to Britain's departure from the EU.
Great Britain Again; Pro-Brexit
Advocates who strongly support Brexit are based on Euro-skeptics (skeptics about Britain within the EU). They see the possibility of diversifying the UK's export target through Brexit. Until now, most of the UK's exports are to the members of the EU. In addition, it was very difficult for Britain to conduct trade negotiations on its own, except for those countries that agreed to further trade in the EU due to EU agreements. If Britain leaves the EU, it can regain new economic vitality by signing trade agreements with new nations, such as the United States.
The supporters of Brexit also argue that the government should invest the contributions to the EU into the nation's public sector. In 2015, Britain spent £18 billion on its financial contribution to the EU. But this is huge compared to the annual budget of the British Interior Department that mentioned above. Britain's share of the contribution in the EU has increased, despite a steady rise in unemployment in the Britain since the 2008 global financial crisis. The supporters suggest that the contributions should be invested in improving the UK's job market.
Finally, it can strengthen the nation's control. Currently, 28 countries in the European continent belong to a single community called the EU, allowing freedom to travel and transactions without borders. While the EU's policy has been positive, it has also been criticized in that it cannot control illegal immigration, which is directly related to the security of the country. This was the most controversial factor in the 2016 referendum, when the issue of Syrian refugees had come up. They believed that Brexit would allow Britain to deal with European refugee issues in a flexible manner.
Is It Worth It? No Brexit
However, many people are opposed to Brexit. To begin with, opponents are raising concerns about the trade tariffs. Britain has been a member of the EU and has been exempt from all tariffs on trade between EU members. However, if Britain leaves the EU, it will no longer be able to get tax-free benefits. Because of the geographic nature of the island, Britain depends considerably on a number of daily necessities imported from the European continent. In this regard, many of the British should stand the burden of tariffs.
Opponents of Brexit also point out a diplomatic inconvenience caused by Brexit. Traditionally, trade with all 28 countries in the European Union was possible through negotiations with the EU. But when Brexit becomes reality, there is an administrative inconvenience of having different trade agreements with different European countries and applying different tariffs to each country. In the case of British citizens in other European countries, there is now a problem of having to go through the cumbersome administrative process of checking immigration and paying a certain amount of fee for a long stay.
Finally, opponents insist that Brexit has a negative impact on the scientific research field of the United Kingdom. Currently, the Britain has a considerable number of areas of research that are being conducted with other European countries. In particular, Dr. Stephen Hawking, a renowned astrophysicist, was concerned that much of the EU financial contribution paid by the British public would support scientists in Britain, and if Brexit becomes a reality, it could disrupt scientists' support for research.
Which Option is Left for Britain?
With few weeks left in Brexit, May must not only pass the negotiation, but also get it signed by representatives from 27 European Union members. However, if the agreement is rejected, Britain is expected to have 3 remaining options.
In this case, there were 4 choices; the parliament elects the prime minister again through a vote of no-confidence, a second referendum, May joins hands with the Labour Party, or the members of the National Assembly revise the proposal. However, Prime Minister May has not only survived the vote of no confidence, but it is considered a tough choice to be realized as it takes at least a month to proceed with a second referendum according to the Politics Parties, Elections and Referendums ACT 2000. In addition, cooperation with the Labour Party is also a difficult option as the Conservative party might be enraged about it.
b. Extension of Brexit
Another option remains for a Brexit extension. In this case, there are plans to resume the negotiations or postpone Brexit. Both cases require the consent of the 27 member countries of the EU. However, as many countries are now showing a firm stance that there will be no further renegotiation, it is expected to be hard to make this a reality.
No-deal Brexit (Hard-Brexit)
Many experts predict that the No-deal Brexit, where Britain literally comes out of the EU without any results, will be the worst option for both Britain and the European Union. Paul Krugman, columnist for the New York Times, pointed out the two negative impacts this option would bring to the United Kingdom in his column, 'What to Expect When You're Experiencing Brexit.' He expected that especially in the absence of any preparation, it would drive British society into disorder and chaos. In addition, he is concerned that Brexit could deal a fatal blow to the entire European economy, with industrial prospects in Europe becoming even worse than the 2011 Euro crisis. But with no progress, the No-deal Brexit is becoming the most desperate and the most realistic option.
Circumstances of Britain shows a sudden change every day. This is because Brexit is an issue that is nested with different interests. Britain is heading to No-deal Brexit now. Under these circumstances, will the British Parliament and Teresa May be able to reach a dramatic settlement, or depart from the European Union without any preparation? As the fate of the Britain is upon them, CAH hopes members of the British parliament can lay down their own interests and make beneficial results for both the nation and the people.< 저작권자 © 중앙헤럴드 무단전재 및 재배포금지 >