So the sun is shinning, the birds are in full song – the UK has just voted to leave the EU and everything is well with the world. Whether you believe that or not it may well be worth while to think through for a few moments the mechanics of what the UK will be embarking on.
The first thing is the timescale for leaving. It has been suggested that we should leave the EU within two years of the vote so let’s say the date is 1st of July 2018 what are the things that have to accomplished by then?
- A new Prime Minister will have to be selected. Whilst David Cameron may think that he can carry on but he will have no credibility with anyone. The longer he tries to hang on the more problems will mount. However, I suspect he will go pretty quickly and so we may have a new Prime Minister by the end of July 2016;
- By the end of July the Civil Service will have presented to the Government a comprehensive list of what has to be settled by the 1st of July 2018. Clearly top of the agenda will be a new relationship with the EU. Hopefully they will have provided an outline as to how this can be achieved in the 23 months left. It is most likely that they will have highlighted the key issues that must be addressed and which other can be renegotiated after July 2018. They will also have included some form of parliamentary timetable to try and get the result of the negotiations onto the statute book in time for it to be enacted by July 2018. They will also point out the amount of time likely to be needed to change all the system and the cost involved. Perhaps the best way to think of this would be the Y2K bug programme on steroids;
- August and September will see frantic activity on the British side to try and clearly set out what they want to achieve by July 2018. The EU side may also see activity as to what that is likely to be it is unclear at this time. However, it is likely to be less than supportive of the UK government if not downright hostile. Angela Merkel may try to act as chief negotiator but her political capital has been somewhat spent, anyway she may have domestic political problems to consider before the EU and Great Britain;
- October to December will see see negotiations start in earnest and we will then start to see the real problems associated with what the British are doing come to the fore. These may include major issues such as trade tariffs, access for the City of London and Immigration/Border control. However, there are likely to be issues that were probably well down the civil service list presented back in July may suddenly become pushed up the agenda – an example might be Gibraltar; By this time may well also become apparent that there will need to be a separate bilateral agreement with the Republic of Ireland given the ‘special’ relationship they have with the UK. We might also see SNP formally campaigning for a second referendum to leave the UK and stay in the EU. If this is the case there will be delegations from the Scottish government to the EU trying to ensure that Scotland would have immediate acceptance to the EU should they gain independence after the UK leaves the EU;
- January 2017 and all bets are off. The French will start to look towards their Presidential elections and so whatever the EU might or might not agree with the UK will not worth the paper it is written on until after the election and even then it is still uncertain. So with a generous wind behind the negotiations it might be that by July 2017 we might have some idea as to where the French stand on what is being agreed;
- However by July 2017 the German federal election campaign would have got into full swing and whilst the French might think they rule Europe the Germans actually do. So anything that the EU and France might have agreed on is unlikely to be agreed on by German until November at the earliest. This assumes that a settled government has been established by then – given previous elections this seems unlikely so we might be into December until this takes place. Things might be helped along if Angela Merkel stays on which is far from certain;
- So we reach the end of 2017 and perhaps we might have something approaching an outline deal with the EU. Unfortunately whilst France and Germany are the most powerful countries in the EU they are not the only ones and just because they might agree to something it doesn’t mean the others will;
- January 2018 – we may well enter 2018 with no agreement with the EU and suddenly all the calculations for Parliamentary timetables go out of the window as I am sure that the Civil Service would have made it clear that we need to start the process by the start of January to have any chance to get it through Parliament in time. They might use an example such as this: A Polish women came to Britain just after Poland joined the EU. She got a job as a teacher and was very successful. She married another teacher, a British citizen, and they have two children. She has continued to teach and is now the head of department at the school, a school that has an outstanding rating and has been quoted as a success by the Education Secretary. The teacher is in line for a move to a senior position at the school but now the school doesn’t know what to do. Can they appoint her? Can they still employ her? Can she even stay in the country? If she has to leave what benefits can she claim given the amount of National Insurance contributions she has made? If she stays does she have to register as a foreign national if so with whom and what system will be used to manage this? There may well be a lot of bluster at the cabinet table about such an example but the sure thing is that no one will have the first clue as to what the answer is;
- March 2018 – With a huge slice of luck perhaps an interim agreement may be made between the EU negotiators and the UK. However, there will no doubt be so many issues left to be negotiated that it would be little more than a letter of intent. This then has to be taken through both the EU and UK system to ratify where it will be questioned and tested but by June the British parliament may well have passed the outline into some form of interim Act of Parliament;
- July 1st 2018 arrives and within minutes the whole agreement starts to unravel because the French have closed the port at Calais due to a strike by the customs officials because they won’t get danger money for working in such a dangerous place. Equally huge queues form at Heathrow because of the uncertainty of the status of EU citizens entering the country and which queue they need to join.
I haven’t got the first clue as to whether this is a realistic scenario but my gut feeling is that the it does have a feel for how things might turn out – certainly as far as the timeline is concerned. This also assumes that other events will not intervene, which is the most unrealistic element to the whole scenario. I will give you just one thing that could happen – 20th January 2017 President elect Donald J. Trump becomes President of the United States of America. What is he going to do about the UK leaving the EU? Answers on a postcard to ….
So it is fine to talk about Britain being a “…great country or ‘…rich country…’ and that we are voting for freedom in leaving the EU, however the sign of a true statesman or woman is the one who also tells you about the problems associated with such a plan of action instead of pretending everything will be rosy. Britain can survive outside the EU and the EU countries will want to trade with Britain, the unanswered question is at what price and how long will we, the British, have to pay this price so that some members of Parliament can pretend that they have real power. I will leave you with this thought…
“Pay attention to the fine print, it’s far more important than the selling point”
President Frank Underwood.