United Kingdom: The battle over Brexit terms
“There’s no going back!” said The Sun in an editorial. Now that Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered Article 50, the formal mechanism for leaving the European Union, Britain is rocketing toward full sovereignty by 2019. A “better, more prosperous future” awaits a U.K. with control over its own laws and borders. Of course, negotiating with a petulant Brussels won’t be easy. EU Council President Donald Tusk has thrown up “huge stumbling blocks” by insisting that the terms of Britain’s exit— like the multibillion-dollar bill we’ll be handed for EU spending that our government committed to but now won’t fulfill—must be agreed to before any new trade pact can be negotiated. May will have to play hardball to get a good deal.
There’s simply not enough time to reach any deal, good or bad, said Christopher Booker in The Sunday Telegraph. Brussels says it can’t negotiate an agreement “covering not just trade but countless other issues, from foreign policy to agriculture,” in two years. Yet to leave the single market with no new trade deal means that commerce with our Continental neighbors will have to be done under World Trade Organization rules. We’ll go from a system where British goods can flow freely throughout the EU to one that involves high tariffs plus “a devastating thicket of paperwork, checks, and inspections” at the border. Those new barriers will create a “catastrophe beyond imagining” for British firms, because 44 percent of their exports go to other EU nations.
While the EU says it won’t be “punitive” with Britain, in fact it must, said Markus Becker in Der Spiegel (Germany). The U.K. can’t be allowed to emerge with a better deal than it has now, “if only to avoid encouraging EU skeptics in other EU countries.” May’s fantasy involves the U.K. getting all of the perks of an open market with total domestic control over borders and regulations. But if Britain wishes to trade with the EU, its companies must continue to adhere to EU standards— while, as a nonmember, it will have zero input on how those regulations are drawn.
Yet most Britons are still in denial, said Sam Leith in the London Evening Standard. We need to discuss trade, but talk mostly of swapping our EU-mandated red passports for the blue ones we had before 1988 and “the restoration of good old imperial measures.” Now there’s chatter of “an invigorating expeditionary war with Spain over the status of Gibraltar.” That rock off Spain’s southern coast was ceded to Britain by Madrid in 1713 and is today home to 30,000 mostly U.K. citizens. But the EU says no Brexit deal can include Gibraltar without Spain’s say-so. May was forced to laugh off a suggestion from a former leader of her Conservative Party that the U.K. send warships to enforce its claim. I know and love many people who voted for Brexit and are delighted by this jingoism, “but I also look at them and think: You people are completely off your onions.” ■