Dose of realism and common sense

Britain has voted to leave the European Union (EU). Good decision. In fact, every EU member state should vote to dismantle the artificial supranational structure and organization of the EU and focus instead on creating a proper and prosperous free market characterized by the free movement of goods, services … and people. A free single market only needs participants, not an undemocratic Big Brother organization.

Let’s be honest: while it’s true that many Britons voted to leave the EU because they wanted to put an end to immigration, reality tells quite a different story.

First, immigration from EU member states is not a bad thing, and has in fact boosted Britain’s economy over the years. Yes, there were some teething problems with some citizens from Eastern Europe in terms of cross-border crime and such, but this is no longer a pressing concern.

And second, intra-European immigration and/or free movement is not the enemy; movements from outside the continent are the problem (and pose an increasingly overwhelming danger).

Britain, therefore, really has only two options in negotiating its future vis-à-vis the European market: accept all free movements, or lose access to the continental market altogether, in which case it would have to go looking for trading opportunities elsewhere. But given its geographic position, this doesn’t look very realistic, or even feasible.

The only non-European option would involve Britain opening itself up to its fellow Commonwealth countries – of course, only Canada, Australia and New Zealand qualify in this context, because all the other Commonwealth countries are not even close to meeting the profile of western-style democracies and should therefore be removed from the Commonwealth.

And in this scenario, too, free movement between and among Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zealand should be a top concern and consideration. However, and unfortunately, even these four sibling countries, for this is what they are, would probably never be able to reach an agreement.

So, that leaves reliance on the European market as Britain’s most realistic option. Several EU states have already made it very clear: no access to the single market without acceptance of free movement. And, I believe, the British government will not have any choice in the matter. After all, the remaining EU states (not to mention the useless EU bodies) are determined to make an example of Britain: if you dare to leave us, we will make your life hell.

That is to say, don’t expect any concessions from the continent.

Having said that, I do see one tiny compromise that might be struck between the UK and the EU: Britain could agree to the free movement of people, but only accept EU citizens who were born in their respective EU member states. In other words, a Spanish citizen born outside of Europe would not be eligible for free movement to Britain, for example.

This would hurt and anger the EU tremendously, no doubt, but it’s something they may be willing to agree to, because such a rule would only affect a relatively small fraction of Europeans. And at the end of the day, it’s about ensuring continued trading and exchange across the continent, which is in the interest of both Europe and Britain.

But the way I see it, Britain may actually never exit the EU. Apart from inner turmoil about keeping Scotland within the UK, and some resistance from within the higher echelons of power, there has already been a lot of foot-dragging on invoking that infamous Article 50, and with negotiations expected to take up at least two years, it’s hard to see how the 2016 referendum vote could still have currency in, say, 2019 or 2020. Plus, Britain will have gone through general elections by then, and whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, they, too, will have to be submitted to voters in Britain – i.e., another referendum – before the final divorce decree is issued.

Nor should we ignore the impact that elections in other EU member states may have on the very nature of the EU, such as next year’s elections in France. It is indeed very likely that France will have an anti-EU government next year that may well hold its own Frexit referendum even before the Brits have taken their final bow.

Thus, the 2016 Brexit vote was just that, a vote on a snapshot taken in June 2016, but that won’t necessarily hold true in 2017, let alone 2019 or 2020. Way too many factors (predictable and unforeseen alike) will have changed, and altered the EU’s complexion, by then. Add to this the buyer’s remorse so many Britons have felt since the vote, and it becomes more than likely that the next vote will produce an entirely different result.

To the Leavers, I’ll say this: please don’t kid yourselves, there will be another referendum – basic principles of democracy demand it. Even with all other things remaining unchanged, the British government of the day will have to put the “divorce agreement” to another vote once all the facts are in and written down.

Let me make it crystal-clear: the June referendum was not a vote on leaving the EU per se, but a vote on initiating divorce proceedings. That next referendum, in 2019 or whenever, will be the actual vote on leaving the EU. It is then that your future will be decided for sure and written in stone.

So, time to put on your thinking caps and figure things out.

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