[THE THIRD WAY] Exit from Brexit

The political situation on the other side of the Atlantic is quite a disaster. We often don’t pay attention to European politics, but it’s important to think about Brexit when looking to the negative material effects of right-wing populism. In the summer of 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union. Proponents of the “Leave” campaign cited sovereignty, economic independence, and the cessation of immigration in order to get people to vote for leaving. Unfortunately, neither side actually understood what the material impacts of Brexit would be.

First, a “soft Brexit,” where the UK stays in some of the EU’s economic institutions, requires the UK to follow all of the EU’s regulations without having legislative power to change them. A “hard Brexit,” where the UK cuts most to all ties with the EU, moreover, would cut off most of the UK’s trade, slash GDP, cause an economic downturn, and cause conflict on the Irish-UK border in Northern Ireland. This is because Ireland, the nation-state, is in the EU, but Northern Ireland, a region within the UK, is leaving the EU with the UK. The UK and Ireland signed an agreement to open the border between the two countries, but it was only feasible because both were in the EU.

The biggest difference between the status quo and a world of “soft Brexit” would be that the UK has no say in European parliamentary legislation

British Prime Minister Theresa May has orchestrated a “soft Brexit” deal with the EU, which would allow the UK’s membership in the European Economic Area, like Norway. It would effectively continue the policies of a single market and customs union, along with allowing a respectable amount of free movement: European citizens would be allowed to live and work in the UK under the deal, for example. The biggest difference between the status quo and a world of “soft Brexit” would be that the UK has no say in European parliamentary legislation. This loss of power has been a source criticism on both the “remain” and “hard Brexit” side of the debate, as many interpret May’s deal as being the worst of both worlds. There’s a twist, though. This deal will only last for 2 years. After that, London recesses back into uncharted territory. If the deal is passed, either the UK negotiates a permanent soft Brexit during the 2 year period — ending in January 2021 — or they have effectively put off a hard Brexit for 2 years.

The UK would also have to negotiate — during the 2 year period — a deal regarding the Irish border, even if they accept a hard Brexit. Why? Because if they don’t, a backstop comes into force. The backstop would keep trade relations between Ireland and Northern Ireland completely open, but it would effectively create a trade and customs barrier between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, splitting the UK in two. If May’s deal isn’t approved, the backstop would be more imminent, because it would come into effect the minute the UK leaves the EU without a deal.

This process has become a debacle. May’s deal only serves to prolong the inevitable. Two years of “soft Brexit” has proved politically non-viable with her party, which led to her postponing the vote in parliament on her deal. If the deal were passed, I have doubts the UK government would actually negotiate a permanent Brexit deal. However, since May and her deal are in political jeopardy, no one knows what’s going to happen with Brexit. If there’s a political deadlock, it would default to no deal, meaning untold amounts of chaos. The only foreseeable way through this for the UK seems to be to hold another vote — this time on all 3 options (May’s deal, no deal, and remain) — and reclaim the will of the people. Hopefully, the UK government will decide to hold the vote and the people of the UK will decide to remain. Any other option would be a failure to govern.