Britain voted to leave but what does that really entail? How are we going to do it? When will it happen? These questions have been the focal point of mainstream media for quite some time; however, a clear yet sensible answer to any of these questions have proved elusive. Differentiating between a ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ Brexit has done little to clarify the Government’s position on what Britain’s plan is for the future. To add fuel to the fire, during this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions, Claire Perry MP coined the term ‘smexit’ also known as a “smart and smooth exit”. Needless to say, this was not received well at a time where the Government’s formal position was that ‘Brexit means Brexit’.
It is true that Britain has many options to consider but it is not a simple ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ answer. What makes an option ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ is its implications on the economy and on the people of Britain but to categorise options in such a black or white manner is impossible. Some soft approaches have the same economic implications as hard approaches; instead, these options should be viewed as part of a spectrum. What many deem to be the worst case scenario also differs greatly. For some, this includes a complete repeal of the European Communities Act 1972 which is the gateway for all European Union Law. In another interpretation, a hard Brexit would involve leaving the single market completely.
Trading under World Trade Organisation rules stands out as a viable option which saves the UK from paying for EU membership and more crucially, it satisfies the need for closed borders. However, the UK face costly tariffs and its current terms of WTO membership are severely outdated as it initially joined as an EU member state. Therefore, it requires some attention before opting to trade under WTO rules.
The Secretary of State for Exiting of the EU, David Davis recently spoke of an even more audacious alternative to EU membership. He insists that Britain could pay for access to the single market to sustain the free movement of goods and services; however, this would mean that Britain will have zero influence in EU policy making yet still be subject to EU rules. This almost seems like having EU membership without any say on how union rules are decided which runs counter to and wholly betrays what the British public voted for- complete sovereignty and taking back control.
Overall, a hard Brexit could cost us dearly, especially with the Treasury forecasting a GDP reduction by up to 9.5% and a depletion of tax revenues by £66bn per year. A hard Brexit is painting a bleak future for families and areas which heavily rely on state funds such as education and the severely underfunded NHS.
Despite a hard Brexit’s perceived difficulties, this may be the only option if the Government is to satisfy the many promises made to the electorate who voted to leave. It is safe to say that a soft option where we retain some sort of membership would not be accepted by the public. A soft approach would still come at the price of free movement, EU contributions and again, no political representation in policy making. From a legal perspective, it also begs the question of whether a member state can truly and fully leave the European Union.
Internationally, it is clear that more and more states are jumping on the ‘Brexit’ bandwagon. A mass disillusionment with the ideals of a European identity and free movement is quietly brewing within the other EU member states. After Brexit and President-Elect Donald Trump’s win who also championed closed borders and national security, it is now more likely that France could follow suit. Marine Le Pen, leader of the Front National could revel in the international momentum to oppose open borders and create a very comfortable win for herself. Le Pen’s popularity is based mainly on the mass public outrage with current EU related policies. She advocates a French exit from the EU and the failing Euro. Therefore, the EU is extremely cautious over letting the UK cherry pick the contents of its relationship with the EU since it would pave the way for other Eurosceptic states to demand the same treatment.
In the end, it would be a fallacy to even think we have much choice of whether to opt for a soft/hard Brexit. In terms of bargaining power, it would be one member state against another 27 who are all, on the face of it, pro-EU. Speaking to The Observer, an EU diplomat said that the continental majority insist that without British compromise, the only way forward is a “hard Brexit”. By breaking all ties with the EU, it carries the risk of leaving a huge dent in our slowly growing economy after we narrowly avoided a double dip recession in 2011. Nevertheless, Prime Minister, Theresa May is remaining optimistic and is adamant that Article 50 will be triggered by March 2017; however, until then it will be a long, painful wait for many.
Photo Credit: Jonathan McHugh