Brexit was given some definition by Prime Minister May recently at her touchstone speech on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. Mrs May has shown a preference for a “hard” Brexit that essentially takes Britain out of the single market and customs union.
Her advisers have touted this, not as a “hard Brexit”, but rather a clean Brexit to create a level of certainty and a pathway which can be clearly followed. It suggests a stance which will see disengagement from the European Union on a number of levels and will therefore raise interesting issues regarding Britain’s future trade relations and also institutional structures.
It was interesting that her speech also included significant reference to the setting out of a dream of a liberal, open future for the country under the title of “A Global Britain”.
This is a very liberal version of a post Brexit Britain which places a heavy onus on establishing favourable (and indeed) quick trade deals with key trading partners across the globe including a USA administration which itself is undergoing significant re-definition and challenges.
The difficulty for Mrs May is that despite the objectives that she has set and the course of the action outlined, there are a number of practical points that are going to have to be dealt with:
Although setting immigration control is a key priority, today’s business sector (particularly the financial services and high tech industry) is highly dependent on people moving around at short notice.
If there is a desire to escape the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice then what is the fall-back position? Free trade deals require a referee and therefore it will be interesting to see where this new source of authority will come from.
Mrs May is also trying to protect certain sectors with bespoke deals. This is particularly the case in the financial services industry and the automotive industry. However, this could run into problems with the World Trade Organisation who are loathed to allow “favoured access deals” to markets.
Mrs May was very clear that if the UK decided to stay in the single market it would have meant “to all intents and purposes” not leaving the EU at all.
Therefore the decision is a clear and bold one.
There will no doubt be political compromises on the way and Mrs May did indicate that she did not wish to see the EU unravel. In particular, she emphasised the need to retain an element of co-operation on foreign policy and security. She went on to say that Britain might also pay modestly into the EU budget in relation to this. Therefore despite some clarification on the proposed next steps in relation to redefining the relationship with the EU, there still remains a great deal of discussion and debate as to how, when and if all such steps are practicable.