As both the Assembly and Westminster term have now drawn to a close for the summer recess, we can (perhaps) breathe a sigh of relief that we don’t need to be paying constant attention to the news for the next few weeks in case something, anything, is decided about our future relationship with the European Union. As we wave goodbye to the eventful (to say the least) events of the past few months, now seems like a good time to reflect on where we are currently so we can at least go into the next term with some sort of understanding. I am not expecting the next term will be any less eventful, but perhaps there will at least be a few solutions on the table.
As it stands, there seem to be three options for what could happen post-Brexit and given the way the vote went, it is unlikely that any option will mean everyone is happy. Nonetheless, come next April we are likely to be in one of these situations:
This is the Hard Brexit option that a small but vocal number of MPs are fighting for. It would mean that the UK would no longer be a part of the European Union, the Customs Union or any of our existing trade deals. This would mean the UK is completely independent and has to negotiate our own trading deals and immigration rules (amongst other factors). Depending on what side of the fence you are sitting on, this is either the worst thing possible or the absolute best thing ever. Given that the Government’s own economic analysis predicts that a No Deal Brexit could result in an £80 billion gap in public finances, even those supporting a Hard Brexit ought to be a little wary about where these losses will occur. From my perspective, a No Deal Brexit seems like the direction we are heading in given the recent spate of resignations and rebellions.
The UK leaving the EU with some sort of deal is far from simple and the details of what sort of deal could be on the table are pretty ambiguous. The EU and most of the UK Government generally claim that they want Brexit to be as harmonious as possible, meaning that a deal would set out the details of how the UK will interact with the EU in terms of trade, immigration and law-making. If a deal does come to fruition it seems likely that it would be based around maintaining close ties with the EU in some important areas, such as agricultural trade. Different groups want a deal based around different factors and really any sort of deal is unlikely to be one that can keep everyone happy. A deal is likely to require compromise from both sides and as the deadline creeps closer there must be concerns over where and when these compromises will emerge.
A second referendum:
Given the cost and time taken up by referendums, this is far from an ideal option and the UK Government has said that it is not part of their plan. However, given the criticism of the handling of the negotiations, as well as the Electoral Commission’s concerns over the running of the original referendum, from some perspectives a second referendum is the only option. This would allow voters to have their say on the final deal, whilst also offering the option of staying in the EU rather than taking that deal.
Ultimately, we could end up with any of these options and currently every step forwards seems to be followed by two steps backwards. The Chequers agreement felt slightly like progress, but the resignations that followed and the subsequent amendments to legislation indicated that disagreements within government run deep and there are some MPs that aren’t willing to compromise in the Prime Minister’s direction
The referendum was held over two years ago and in eight months the UK should be leaving the EU, for better or worse. However you felt waking up on June 24th 2016, I think everyone would have hoped and expected that by now we would have had a better idea of what we would be heading into in March.