I’ve been reading a lot over the past few weeks about the potential consequences of Brexit (I can recommend this post on the Jack of Kent blog and especially the many comments underneath), and I’m slowly coming to the conclusion that it’ll be even harder and take longer than I had anticipated (and I was more pessimistic than most people I know).
If the UK government really enacts a hard Brexit in early 2019 – which seems to be what the Brexiters from the Leave campaign (such as Johnson, Fox and David) have in mind – then the consequences will be truly catastrophic, because the new trade agreements and other requirements of being a succesful state outwith the EU simply can’t be put in place that quickly. Some agreements can be in place sooner than others, but the consensus seems to be that some might take as long as ten years to do well.
At the same time, the UK government seems to believe that a soft Brexit doesn’t fulfil the promises of the Leave campaign (in particular because a soft outcome means continued free immigration for EU nationals).
As far as I can see, the only way to cut through this Gordian Knot is by implementing a soft Brexit here and now but to put an end date on it, for instance ten years later. So basically the UK government would ask the EU to remain part of everything for ten years after leaving, including the free movement of people. The UK would also contribute as much money to the EU budget as before, and continue to be bound by decisions by the European Court of Justice. The only difference would be that the UK would pull out of all the decision-making forums, such as the European Parliament and the European Council, and there wouldn’t be a British Commissioner any more. However, after the end date, the UK would be able to pull out of everything.
There would be many advantages to this. From the point of view of those preferring a hard Brexit, it would give them the time to negotiate good deals with other countries; those wanting a soft Brexit could hope to prolong the soft phase indefinitely; and the Remainers would get ten years to reverse Brexit – don’t forget that there’ll be two general elections during the ten years. It would also give Scotland up to ten years to plan a new independence referendum carefully, in full knowledge of what Brexit actually ends up meaning.
Interestingly, Yanis Varoufakis suggested something similar today, although he doesn’t think ten years are needed:
My advice is simple: activate Article 50, use those years as best you can and then strike a deal for the three or four years after Britain should be associated in a Norway-style agreement, and then use that period to have a robust debate on what’s to come later.
It’s all eminently sensible, which is probably why I have my doubts it’ll happen. Most of the tabloid press have been so busy telling their readers that Brexit is wonderful and uncomplicated and that it’ll cause us nasty EU migrants to get sent home very soon, so they’ll have a hard time explaining why suddenly nothing will change for a long time.