Following a year of political upsets, the Brexit negotiations have finally begun. Before we say more on this, it has to be noted that we were against the UK leaving the EU. We live in a globalised world where people use technologies in new and imaginative ways to cross borders. It makes no sense to take an isolationist position. At best, it serves a false sense of nostalgia for sovereignty. At worst, it weakens both the UK and the EU. Sadly, these arguments would be rehashing of pre-referendum debates. The reality of Brexit can’t be ignored or debated any more. A short sighted, but democratic, process has taken place and should be honoured. So what is the best way forward?
David Davis, the UK Brexit Secretary, will walk into negotiations with a weakened hand. He will have a weak government behind him, and a country that is in political chaos. This is bad news for the whole nation. Regardless of how one feels about this government, when their chosen minister walks into the meeting room, he will be representing the whole of the UK. That means the Brexiteers, the Remoaners and those who didn’t vote either way. A failure at these negotiations will not be a Conservative Party failure. It will be nation’s failure.
Politicians and political pundits have been speculating about single market access, customs union membership, or complete withdrawal. This would be the debate of hard Brexit v. soft Brexit. In reality, it is up to the remaining EU states whether they wish to give any access to the UK. The UK will have lost spectacularly if it gives up its seat at the table, only to agree to a deal which binds it to EU laws and agreements. What, then, would be the point of the UK giving up its voice in the EU? This point gives context to Theresa May’s mantra; no deal is better than a bad deal. The wound has already been self-inflicted, the UK will lose its standing in the EU regardless of what access it is offered. Therefore, it might be wise to start planning ahead for the economic cost, and be honest with the nation about the challenges ahead. That is the price of democracy.
In the meantime, while negotiations are ongoing, all the political parties need to find a way to ensure they don’t undermine the UK negotiators. For better or worse, we are all in this together. The opposition party needs to scrutinise every detail of the Brexit negotiations, but they must do it in a way that serves the national interest. There will probably be many opportunities for political point scoring, but all politicians must try and resist this. At the end of the day, bad Brexit will have catastrophic consequences beyond the Westminster Village. The first people to feel the pinch will be in the most vulnerable towns and cities in the UK. Even London won’t be immune to it, with the impact Brexit will surely have on the finance sector.
The best possible outcome will be for the Conservative Party to negotiate a deal, then come back to the public and let everyone vote on whether they want to go ahead with it. Politicians need to be bipartisan and honest about what leaving the EU really means. Let the nation know exactly what they will be getting. If the vote is to go ahead with what’s on the table, then so be it. However, if people see the impact Brexit will have on their lives and then decide against it, then that should be fine too. There is no precedent for leaving the EU, so until the negotiations are concluded, the UK could arguably withdraw it’s letter triggering Article-50.
It is all too easy to focus on UK politics when writing about Brexit. There will undoubtedly be much to write about the EU as negotiations progress. For the moment, it is interesting to note how EU politicians have contributed to the Brexit debate. Over the past year, EU politicians have been increasingly outspoken about Brexit and UK politics. High profile EU politicians like Guy Verhofstadt would do well to resist the temptation of writing articles in the Guardian, or any other publication, criticising the way UK politicians have handled Brexit. It serves no purpose other than to inflame political tensions. Furthermore, it gives credence to the argument that unelected EU officials meddle in national politics. If the EU doesn’t stay neutral when it comes to national politics, it will undoubtedly fuel anti-EU sentiments with UK citizens.
Regardless of the outcome of these negotiations, this whole experience marks a sad chapter in the history of Europe. It gives us hope that the recent ugly and divisive politics in the UK have snapped everyone out of their complacency. People are more politically engaged, and have shown all parties that they don’t want smear campaigns or negative politics. On that note, the EU was born out of a commitment to peace. Perhaps all those in the Brexit negation room should keep this in mind.