Brexit: What is it and what does it mean? Written by James Stuart
The above question is one that confuses both those who voted to leave the European Union in June 2016 and those who voted to remain. The question of our relationship with Europe is, in my view, one that cannot be explained or re-purposed by a simple yes/no referendum.
As we know, the United Kingdom voted 51% to 49% to leave the European Union. A result this close does not come close to any sane definition of consensus. ‘Brexit’ is not an action, nor is it a cohesive plan of action. It is a slogan, and beneath that slogan lies the reality: Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union on 29th March this year.
The withdrawal agreement that Prime Minister Theresa May has presented to Parliament has no hope of passage. At the time of writing, the vote is scheduled for the 15th of January, and will not pass through the British legislature. Now, the withdrawal agreement, brokered with the European Union over a time period of some 18 months is a document some 600 pages long, which no citizen is likely to have either the time or the inclination to examine at length. Which leaves us with a fundamental question, if the vote on the 15th of January fails as it is widely expected to do: what happens next? To this question I posit the three most likely outcomes when that eventuality shortly comes to pass.
The Deal passes.
This is the least likely of the three outcomes. The deal is, to give Theresa May the only credit she shall receive in this short piece, the only negotiated settlement that is going to be available before March 29th of this year. It leaves Britain adrift of the European Union while staying within a set of rules from the EU, in order to ensure that trade, both imports and exports are protected. Whether or not the deal achieves this is something for the analysts to pour over, but this is its essence.
Right-wing members of the Conservative party will vote against it because they believe that a total divorce from the EU, one of the world’s biggest trading blocs is preferable to maintaining any sort of future relationship. They are also angry about the £39 billion divorce bill that will be paid to Brussels upon Britain’s acrimonious exit.
Left-wing members of the Labour party will vote against the deal because it is devoid of any assurances on their priorities, namely education funding, fighting climate change and worker’s rights. None of these things I should point out are in any way priorities for a government as far to the right as the one Theresa May is pretending to lead. So, this deal has trapped our embattled Prime Minister. In trying to be something for everyone it turns into something for nobody. It has not achieved consensus and was poorly explained by members of the government.
The Deal fails.
This second point is a certainty, as I write this on the evening of the 14th of January 2019. As I have explained above, the deal will likely fail due to the amalgamation of opposition to it. If this occurs, then the dreaded ‘no deal’ scenario becomes a real possibility. There has been so much alarmist and frankly disheartening press coverage on the looming spectre of ‘no deal’ that we appear to have missed what ‘no deal’ actually means practically for the people on the streets, particularly young people.
No deal essentially means that the United Kingdom will leave the EU as scheduled on the 29th of March, without any kind of assurances on trade, citizens rights and security. A trade deal from the EU would not be forthcoming, since it is in the bloc’s political interests to keep the UK isolated in order to deter other member states from leaving.
If Britain leaves without a deal, then World Trade Organization trading rules would be instantly implemented, meaning there would be up to 38% tariffs on trade, meaning prices would almost certainly rise and small businesses who rely on free trade with the EU would be effected. This of course would damage the economy and likely force the Treasury into a prolonged period of fiscal consolidation, leaving areas such as education particularly effected.
The impact for students would be felt most acutely in any potential price rises, and the lack of the education investment from the EU, a shortfall which the UK government is unlikely to be able to maintain. Shortages of products such as medicine and food are also expected. The Department of Defence has ordered 3500 to undergo training in ‘keeping the peace’. Meaning that the government is expecting dissent from below.
Britain does not leave the European Union.
This is a dream for many of my generation, so let me try and explain how it might happen. The possibility of remaining in the EU after the fractious leave vote is one that rises every day. If the deal fails, Theresa May will have to decide between potential dire economic and cultural consequences of leaving the bloc without a deal or remaining in the EU until some other mystical deal is able to be negotiated. Both of these paths will see her out of power before March.
If the deal fails, Jeremy Corbyn has already confirmed that he intends to table a no-confidence motion in the government in the House of Commons. To the uninitiated this simply means that Labour want to try and force a general election, whereby if victorious they would renegotiate Brexit to work ‘for the many and not the few’. Again, this is a slogan, and again it means absolutely nothing to the wider citizenry.
The Labour leaning electorate is split between remain and leave. So is the labour leader, who has tried for months to hide his own devout Euroscepticism in order to win over a broader swath of the electorate. A group that becomes ever more important to bringing about this third possibility, is young people. Young people voted, though not in high enough numbers, to remain in the EU, whereas older voters, clearly pining for a whiter 1950s Britain, voted to leave. There is no way to bridge the two groups. They have largely divergent priorities.
Generally, young voters want an activist state, and equality in all things. While unrealistic, this is an admirable goal. Older voters voted to ‘take back control’ by a duplicitous leave campaign. They want immigration controls simply because the right-wing papers spend every day parroting anti-immigrant rhetoric which serves the interest of their own corporate sponsorship.
The blame for leaving the European Union does not however, lie with older voters, and this is a crucial distinction.
The blame goes to the incompetently run Remain campaign and the lying Leave campaign. No voter on either side of this debate can argue with these judgements. Power was the reason and power was the motive. Britain voted not to leave a tyrannical and corrupt organization. Britain voted to give more power to the elites that run the country. If and when Britain leaves the EU, vast law-making powers will be transferred back to the British government. This will increase the power of the state while giving the government more opportunities for shrinking public services and being conveniently free from European Human rights rules, among other things. There will be less money for education and prices will rise. These are the two main practical consequences for the young.
In summary, summing up what Britain’s leaving the European Union means to each person is difficult. But we must have resolve, the chances of an election this year are extremely high, and young people, the key demographic, should and will make their voices heard, because if you, a student, refuse to vote or participate, then you lose the right to criticise the consequences.