As the United Kingdom prepares itself to leave the European Union, certain hurdles await. The UK needs to maintain friendly relations with the EU and enhance its global position amidst the internal tensions. This article explores the complexities that will emerge as a result of Brexit. It further talks about the challenges that remain for the UK in order to avoid a no-deal Brexit and its impact on global politics.
The winter witnessed Britons going for a snap election on December 13, 2019 albeit the political turmoil in the country and managing to re-appoint Boris Johnson as Prime Minister for the second time with a resounding majority. The Prime Minister decided to call for early elections giving his MPs more time to debate the Brexit deal. After months of negotiations and discussions, the proposal had been rejected three times in the Parliament. The issue of Brexit took precedence over other issues in the elections. This was the third election conducted in a span of five years.
The slogan during the elections that resonated the most was to “get Brexit done”, leading to a sweeping victory (364 of 650 seats) for the Conservatives in the Parliament. This has been the biggest win for the Conservatives since Margaret Thatcher’s in 1987. Boris Johnson managed to get an extension until January 31, 2020 for a revised deal and claims a smooth transition by the end of next year. The scale of majority has emboldened his resolve to get Brexit done. However, according to some critics, this is going to be difficult given the short span and the complex bureaucratic structure of the EU. There continues to remain a possibility of a no-deal Brexit. This has raised several concerns, especially over the Irish borders. In case of a no-deal Brexit, the UK will leave the EU overnight without an agreement and tariffs shall have to be imposed on all the goods crossing the borders.
The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is already under stress. A no-deal Brexit automatically will enforce a hard border leaving Ireland―part of the European Union and Northern Ireland—out of the Union. The Irish government has stressed its concerns over a hard border and reiterated that it is not planning one at any cost.
Boris Johnson is expected not only to carve a deal with the EU but also with the Democratic Unionist Party. The absence of adequate border regulations would only mean stricter controls and migration checks, shortages of supplies that invariably will hike up the commodity prices and a chaotic economy. It is going to be problematic for him to secure a deal with the biggest trading block after being part of it for the last 40 years.
Within the UK itself, elections have sparked up hopes among the Scottish National Party for a second referendum to leave the UK. Securing 48 seats was an “exceptional night”, according to Party leader Nicola Sturgeon. The Party continues to be pro-European with a belief that the UK does not have the right to decide the Scottish future.
Along with maintaining internal peace, the UK needs to continue with the regional security cooperation in Europe. Being the largest contributor of European defence and having the most efficient navy may enhance its role and position in NATO post-Brexit. Some suggest the UK could leverage on NATO to re-establish itself as a strong player in the region to compensate for its lost stand in the EU security and foreign policy decision making. The UK has pledged 2 per cent of its GDP, one Arm Brigade, two squadrons of fast jet and six major warships, including two aircraft carriers at the NATO Summit. This allegiance and coalition with the trans-Atlantic alliance is now unclear as the UK is all set to become an autonomous international actor. The third strategic review announced by Boris Johnson aims at increasing military expenses, covering defence, development and diplomacy in the region. He had also expressed desires to re-engage in the Middle East and Asia and deploy naval forces in strategic locations like Bahrain, Far East and the Caribbean, thereby trying to regain its naval supremacy.
Accompanied with military capabilities, the UK will also need to boost its economic priorities. It is free to pursue its national interests once it leaves the EU. Many enterprises have reportedly shifted bases from London to other major cities in the EU because of differences in tariff rates. The ease of doing business with the UK will increase once it will be able to establish its own trade agreements that are independent of the EU regulations.
The immigration policies are also likely to change as borders are becoming less porous. The government plans to abolish the free movement rules between the EU and UK. This shall not be applied to Irish nationals. Unless the UK reaches an agreement with the Union, British citizens working in the EU may be affected. There is an uncertainty among those working in other parts of the Union and vice versa. The government has announced those living on residence permit in the UK shall not be affected. It hopes and expects that the EU will reciprocate. The implementation of an Australian styled immigration policy that focuses on skilled labour rather than country of origin is already in order within the UK. The migration will thus be made easier for non-EU nationals as bureaucratic work becomes smoother. The stay back period for students to find employment is also expected to increase.
The December election saw a shift in the political discourse in the UK, with the debate being completely polarised over Brexit. Whatever the consequences, Conservatives’ victory has given an impetus to Brexit with the hope of giving people a higher standard of living. What continues to be an exciting factor is the kind of trade deals the UK chooses to secure with the rest of the world once it quits the economic Union. However, the questions still remain: will Britain be able to strike a deal or will it exit the Union without a deal? Will this lead to another Scottish referendum? Is this the beginning of an Irish unification? And most importantly for the people sitting miles away, does this mean more opportunities for outsiders in the land of Big Ben? Only time will tell.
Dipika Mohinani is Research Intern at CPPR-Centre for Strategic Studies. Views expressed by the author is personal and need not reflect or represent the views of Centre for Public Policy Research