Every time we undergo a separation, we try to look for the bright side. Whether it’s a divorce, death of a loved one, or a broken friendship, we literally grasp for an upside to what just happened like “I’m finally single and ready to mingle” or “now I get to find new friends.” While having a positive outlook on life isn’t a bad thing, it can become very easily to slip into denial which will only postpone your pain and disappointment.
A similar situation is unfolding in the United Kingdom as they prepare to officially leave the European Union in two years. Like any divorce, things will be and are getting nasty between the EU and the UK, but what is most disturbing to me is that Conservatives led by Prime Minister Theresa May are living in an alternate reality where they claim that a good deal is possible for Britain and that they are finally taking their country back. And if by that, they mean taking their country back into the pit, they are correct.
Make no mistake, Brexit was and has always been a bad deal from day one. The entire Leave Campaign tapped into an often uninformed populist vein and appealed to voters’s base instincts of fear and nationalism. Ultimately, a slim majority of the British people chose to leave the EU and the gears for Brexit began turning. Trying to make the best of the situation, Conservatives like Theresa May who were skeptical of Brexit before the vote, have become its biggest cheerleaders and seem to ignore the simple reality that there is no realistic way to paint what is about to happen in a positive manner.
If you think this is an overly pessimistic view to have, just look at the options on the table.
A Soft Brexit
For most of the EU supporters in the United Kingdom, a “Soft Brexit” seems like the best choice. In a “Soft Brexit”, the United Kingdom will leave the European Union while retaining certain benefits. The best option in this field is for the United Kingdom to join the European Economic Area (EEA). The EEA is a program through which other nations in Europe who are not EU members are still allowed access to the EU’s Single Market, a barrier free international market.
As an EEA member, the UK must still abide by EU law, must still follow its competition regulations, must continue to pay into EU programs, and cannot restrict the free movement of people or travel of EU citizens to the UK. These stipulations of course present problems because these are the very issues that the Leave Campaign specifically railed against. But the major difference between being in the EEA and in the EU is that in the EU, the UK could actually have a say in these regulations. But in the EEA, the UK would still be required to abide by them even though they don’t have any representation. This means that after Brexit, Brussels really would be controlling London in a way they weren’t previously.
Not abiding by EU regulation isn’t an option for EEA members and if they want to remain in the Single Market, they must comply. So while a “Soft Brexit” would probably be the least harmful option to the UK and the EU economically, it comes at a great political cost to the UK and its negotiators.
A Hard Brexit
Theresa May once claimed that no deal is better than a bad deal. However, no deal is a bad deal, and certainly for the UK. Currently, the UK relies on the EU for more than 40% of its imports and if the trade between the UK and EU was to be cut by a “Hard Brexit,” the results for the UK will be catastrophic. A “Hard Brexit” is basically when the UK and EU can’t agree on anything so by default, all agreements between them end. Since the UK began the Brexit process in March of this year, the deadline for all negotiations is set at two years from now unless all parties agree to extend the deadline.
That means if they can’t agree by 2019, the default would simply be a clean cut from the EU with no trade agreements, no special privileges, and no access to the single market. One of the Leave Campaign’s grievances was that foreign EU workers were coming over and stealing jobs that belonged to UK nationals. But if a “Hard Brexit” were to occur, many companies would likely ship their work oversees to the EU, avoiding tariff costs, and potentially laying off thousands more UK workers than are presently affected by foreign labor.
A “Hard Brexit” would fulfill the campaign promise to completely leave the EU made by Prime Minister May and her fellow Conservatives, but could hurt the British economically for years to come. May and her negotiators are grasping to the hope that perhaps they can negotiate a separate free trade agreement with the EU but such agreements can take years to complete and the EU would want some major UK concessions like guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens in the UK and paying back what they owe the EU which is an estimated 100 billion euros.
Whether it is losing more sovereignty to the EU or taking a severe blow to their economy, the UK is hurt either way, plain and simple. If Theresa May is looking for the best Brexit deal, she’s on a wild goose chase and the best she can hope for is a deal less worse than the others. By the end of the day, the only GOOD choice for the UK is to remain in the EU, an option the EU would certainly be happy to leave open.
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