The question that many Brits are asking themselves at this point; two and a half years after the referendum and five months before the official departure from the EU, is whether or not it deserves to go ahead. If we ask the economy, the answer is clear: no. At least in the short term.
The 80% of British companies believe that the Brexit has seriously affected investments according to a survey recently released by the CBI employers, which represents 190,000 members. London’s greatest firms – 30% of the British GDP – are already well advanced in their contingency plans. Banks such as HSBC, Goldman Sachs, UBS and JP Morgan have announced that they will transfer personnel to other cities in Europe and that their turnover in the United Kingdom will significantly decrease.
In the long run, if the country leaves the European Union on good terms and knows how to adapt in order to become something like a tax haven, the Brexit could become something good. But human beings do not usually think long term, we almost always do it short. We try by instinct to save the day. We are more worried about what will happen tomorrow than what will happen in two years’ time. It is logical, in addition, that it be so.
The economy, which now worries the British so much, was one of the tricks used by Brexit supporters during the campaign. They knew how to transform resentment towards EU regulations into votes. They did something similar with immigration. They blamed Brussels for the large number of immigrants that enter the island without noticing that the EU is not the cause, but the good performance of the British economy. Slovakia or Bulgaria are part of the EU and they have no problems with immigration.
The brexiteers also took advantage of the fears towards a super European state managed by Paris and Berlin. But there is no such thing, at least until now. There we have the Italians settling their own affairs on the economic sector and the Hungarians in the political one.
In the end the EU is nothing more than a confederation formed by almost thirty very heterogeneous States in which the weight of the “national” is very important. Paris and Berlin have influence over smaller countries, yes, but it is a much smaller influence that the one Washington may have over any Central American government beyond a purely bilateral relationship.
All of this was known during the campaign, but that took on very emotional tones, so it was useless to appeal to reason. It was also known that, beyond the invocation of Article 50, the dragons lived. There were no maps because that route simply had not been planned. Theresa May has been trying to raise the first portolano for more than two years, but she is not a good cartographer and, moreover, she doesn’t want to take a trip either.
This being the case, and with a measly semester ahead before the exit is consumed, all options are still open. The first one is that on March 29th the United Kingdom leaves the EU without any agreement, breaks loose and sets sail without too many provisions and without knowing which will be its next port of call. No one, not even the most ardent supporters of Brexit, wants something like that for reasons that are easy to understand.
The opposite could also happen, that a second referendum be called as they asked for on the streets of London last month. It is a remote but feasible possibility. If Theresa gets knocked down in the Commons, whatever agreement she reaches with Brussels could involve a second referendum to unblock the situation. The so-called «bremainers» could turn to that eventuality, now that they have come into their own after the successive skids of the executive board.
There is life between both extremes, of course. We have, for example, the Chequers Plan, which is how the proposal that Theresa developed in the summer to present in Brussels has been baptized. The Chequers Plan foresees to remain in the single market but fulminating the free movement of people. A Brexit à la carte that European chancelleries are giving a black look because the four liberties of the EU go together or do not go at all. But the brexiteers do not like Chequers either since it implies greater integration in the EU than they wish and, what is more painful, it separates de facto Northern Ireland from the rest of the country in order to keep open the borders between the two Irelands.
If Checkers doesn’t turn out, the Norwegian option would remain: staying within the European Economic Area, which would force them to fulfill most of the hated regulations but without being able to influence them. This works in countries like Norway or Iceland, but they are small and peripheral states. It is a mystery how the outcome would be in the continent’s second economy.
As we see, there is where to choose, but all options are bad for Theresa May, who sails in a rough sea on a fragile skiff. The storm will take her away whatever happens, with or without Brexit. It could be because she is forced to resign as a result of internal intrigues, or because she will not be able to ford the rapids of the next elections.
- En español: ¿Se puede revertir el Brexit?
* Traducción: Rainer Hernández Tió