By Grant Dunnery
While the rhetoric from Downing Street has alluded to a hard Brexit, the reality will be very different. In order to understand why we will receive a soft deal, we must first uncover how we got here in the first place.
The vote to leave was deeply skewed, and based on a mistaken understanding of European integration. The vote to leave the EU was an attack against globalisation and all of its key traits.
It was an attack against free market principles, however, voters really intended to attack the injustice of neoliberalism. It was an attack against immigrants and to those who spoke a different language, but in reality the UK is far more divided by wealth disparity and social class than it is by nationality or race.
The misunderstanding of the virtues – and necessities, if you evaluate our bloody past – of European integration, have been masqueraded. A dangerous combination of misinformation, rising poverty, a lack of opportunities and voter frustration have led us to this point. In addition to this, the UK government’s plans are equally as flawed in nature.
The optimistic vision of a “Global Britain” seems hollow and half of May’s Cabinet simply don’t want a hard Brexit. The rhetoric suggests we will see the creation of new trading arrangements and significantly tighter controls on immigration.
However, there has been little substance, and little evidence that substance will appear before March 2019. In addition, the EU will simply not allow the UK to receive a relatively beneficial deal, as it could lead to a domino effect of rising Euroscepticism across the continent.
That said, even without the seeds of anti-European sentiment ready to bloom in more than a few member states, the UK is simply not equipped to negotiate a relatively beneficial trade deal.
The UK has not independently negotiated a trade deal for over 40 years, therefore there is no one still of working age with the experience to negotiate successfully on the UK’s behalf, in opposition to the world’s largest trading block. It is unthinkable that a nation would be a member of a club of 27 nations, leave, and then expect to be given preferential treatment over the remaining 26.
The PM decided to call a General Election for June 2017, with the intention of winning significant majority, which would allow her to cement her legitimacy, following her election as leader but not by not having won a General Election. This of course dramatically backfired.
However, let’s imagine there was a landslide victory. With the likely support of opposition parties in addition to the huge Conservative majority, the PM would not have to satisfy her rebellious hard Brexit backbench, and could pursue a “One Nation” Brexit which would be soft enough to tame the Labour Party, please most moderate Leave voters, as well as the devolved administrations.
This obviously did not happen in the General Election in June, but it does not make a hard Brexit more likely, just an agreement in the House of Commons harder to achieve.
The reality that one cannot fully control borders has already been accepted. The UK government has agreed that there shall be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, meaning there will be a “back door” for immigration into the UK (at least NI).
The UK has also conceded that the European Court of Justice shall continue to have jurisdiction for several years following Brexit, meaning the most valid reason for voting for Brexit – to “Take Back Control” – has now been declared void.
What are we left with? Blue passports? Yes, precisely. What we will see change is our identity as a country and where we see ourselves fit in on the global stage.
Since the collapse of the British Empire, the UK has never quite been at ease with its national identity. Yes, it is true pride has been taken in the Welfare State, in particular the NHS, which was a key concern for voters in the referendum. However, the UK has never quite reclaimed the pride and sense of world dominance it once possessed.
Emotions, identity and intuition were far more important that rationality and expert advice. The remain campaign lost because while voters where concerned about the cultural change in their communities, remain campaigners were banging on about GDP, the threat of tariffs and hyperinflation.
There will be a Brexit in name only; a rebranding of our national identity. Signs of this are already becoming evident. The return of the nostalgic blue passports is a key example of the UK re-establishing its national image. Ironically, those blue passports were imposed on the UK in the 1920s by the League of Nations.
It’s interesting that while enthusiasm for Brexit is beginning to dwindle, the government announces a rebranding of our identity. While the government has not even started discussions over trade talks, it is happy to stir up a sense of patriotism and originality.
In the end, financial interests will – as they always do in political-economic negotiations – dictate the direction and nature of change. Voters may choose the branding, whether we fly EU flags outside government buildings and so on, but little will really change.
After all, people tend to vote intuitively based on how they feel, rather than rationally, so this will likely suffice for much of the country. We will be made to feel independent and sovereign, however what does sovereign even mean in a world where we all mutually dependent?
I do not believe the UK will be better off for leaving the EU, nor do I think Europe will be. However, the sky will not fall, and immigration and capital flow will continue.