The Brexit situation began in 2016, but it may well feel for many as if it has existed for a lot longer. The process is slow, and the triggering of Article 50, under a Theresa May government occurred back in January 2019 – again, it may feel like a lot longer. The process of undoing an almost fifty-year-old agreement, featuring trade agreements that cover tens of countries, is naturally not going to be simple. The British public has wrangled with the process for so long that the last election of Boris Johnson’s Conservative government was seen by many to be a ‘second referendum’ of sorts. Now, the UK continues to participate in the EU Customs Union and European Single Market as part of a temporary transition period that finally ends on December 31, 2020.
The notion of leaving the EU is now firmly and unquestionably in place. All the right processes have been followed. However, the speculation hasn’t ended. The fabled ‘Bre-Entry’, as it is beginning to be colloquially known, is now a very real point of contention. For British business, trade and finance, re-entry to the EU would be a monumental reversal of fortunes in some ways. The appetite for it is harder to ascertain, given the strain and pressure the Brexit process has put on the British electorate already. According to the latest political betting odds, the UK rejoining the EU is currently 1/10 to not happen and 5/1 to occur. It’s clear that the majority can’t see the population being ready to consider something like rejoining off the back of such an emotionally-draining and drawn-out process like Brexit. A U-turn is more than likely to be just as painfully slow and staggered. So, how likely would it be? And what benefits, or dangers, could a Bre-Entry present?
A Question of Comfort
Back in early January, the Labour MP Jess Phillips discussed the possibility of rejoining the EU at some stage in the future. Effectively, she believed it came down to circumstance. For example, if the UK was enjoying an ‘absolute paradise of trade, and we’re totally safe in the world’, as Phillips put it, then it would be unquestionable to remain outside of the Union. She worried that Britain would become overly reliant on America for security and trade and that the guarantee of safety and economic viability would only be really clear within the EU.
Her remarks came during her own run for leadership of the Labour party, which ended in failure. Perhaps, it was a hint of the lack of appetite for a re-entry. The arguments to change direction are purely economic. A theoretical worst-case scenario would see the UK not agreeing any solid, or binding, free-trade deals with European countries, the EU itself or America. There’s also the issue of managing the trading position with rapidly-growing tech giants like China and India.
Johnson and his government know that the next election falls in 2024, by which time, these sorts of deals will have to be in place, or at least temporary arrangements that indicate some degree of ‘business as usual.’
Much of the critique for the trade negotiations has pointed to perceived underestimation of the complexity of them. The access to citizens’ rights, licenses to fish, access to extradition or divisive issues like the UK’s 5G network comes into play. It’s an unfortunate reality that these divisions are already creating cracks in the sunny outlook the Government painted as the UK approaches the deadline to leave.
The understatement of the decade would be to say that Brexit is going to be fast, easy or guaranteed to bear fruit. In reality, it is a vast umbrella term for an innumerable number of negotiations and treaties and deals that will have to be arranged and agreed upon. The UK, ideally, wants to enter those negotiations in a strong position. However, the longer time goes on, the more they will be desperate to sign the dotted lines. While the EU surely needs the UK, the financial hub of the world in the eyes of many, who can live without the other longest? It’s perhaps a question that many would rather not have to find out, whichever country they choose to live in