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Brexit: Breaking up is so hard to do

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Breaking up is difficult at the best of times and more so when the couple has been bound by law. Getting through the legal process of separation is so complex that specialist lawyers usually have to be hired by both parties who are often left antagonistic towards each other.

It is similarly difficult for countries to break up. Some do and end up with permanently warring nations or would-be nations. Many attempted separations end up in bloody civil war, such as the American Civil War which left issues and hostilities unresolved 150 years later.

When one region or group wants to secede and the majority will not allow it the result is usually civil war, in which the majority violently suppresses the aspirations of the minority. The Nigerian Civil War, commonly known as the Biafran War, was fought between the Government of Nigeria and the secessionist Biafran State of the Igbo people. Catalonia and the rest of Spain, we hope, will be settled peacefully like Quebec and Canada.

Separation in integration processes among groups of countries can be problematic. Sometimes the break-up is orderly and amicable, such as Jamaica's departure from the West Indies Federation. But it can be difficult as is happening with Brexit.

Eighteen months after the referendum on June 23, 2016 in which 51.9 per cent voted to leave the European Union (EU), little or no progress has been made, with four main issues remaining unsolved.

First, rather than getting back money that was to be contributed to the EU, the United Kingdom will have to pay billions of pounds over many years. Second, the border problem between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland cannot be practically solved.

Third, the EU will not begin trade talks until the Irish border issue is resolved. In any case, the EU will not allow any trade deal which allows the UK to have the same benefits as being in the EU given that one of the core tenets of the UK's negotiating template is control of immigration.

That rules out a common market, and the desire to be free of a common external tariff rules out a Customs union. If there is no agreement, trade would be based on the rules of the World Trade Organisation.

Fourth is the status and rights of the 1.2 million British people living in Europe and the 3.2 million Europeans living in the UK, 80 per cent of whom will be eligible for permanent residence before the 2019 exit date.

Meanwhile, the UK economy has been damaged, as the exchange has deteriorated, economic growth is very low and the financial sector is haemorrhaging jobs. Brexit could erode the role of London as a premier international financial centre with negative effects such as a loss of jobs, taxes and other revenue.

Public opinion has now shifted to a majority opposed to leaving the EU. Scotland and Ireland do not want to leave the EU, and could opt out, as the deal, if it gets done, does not suit them. This could spell the end of the United Kingdom of Great Britain. Several people, including former Prime Minister Tony Blair, are suggesting that the UK change its position and remain in the EU. This position could gain support as the public becomes more aware of the cost and difficulties of Brexit.