The word “Brexit” refers to the referendum of 23 June 2016 on the membership of the United Kingdom in the European Union, to the withdrawal procedure started on 29 March 2017 by the so-called notification of Article 50 of the Treaty about the European Union, and finally to all the debates surrounding this process.
The future relationship, especially commercial, to be established between the United Kingdom and the European Union at 27 does not fall under the term “Brexit” strictly speaking. Even if it is at the heart of internal political tensions in the United Kingdom as evidenced by the recent resignations of Theresa May’s Cabinet.
On 29 April 2017, following the UK notification, the European Council defined the guidelines to be followed by the European Union at 27 (EU27) to negotiate this withdrawal. It was from this moment that the Twenty-Seven decided that the issues of divorce had to be settled first before negotiating a trade agreement, although the United Kingdom had several times indicated that it preferred that this should be done in parallel.
In a communication (in English only) published on July 19 of this year, and in line with the conclusions of the European Council at the end of June, the European Commission called on the 27 Member States and stakeholders and private actors to speed up their preparation in perspective of the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on March 30, 2019.
Two scenarios are possible:
The first is an agreement on withdrawal and the transitional period ratified before 30 March 2019 (i) by the European Parliament (in plenary sitting by a simple majority), (ii) by the British Parliament, and (iii) ) by the European Council (by qualified majority). in this case, European law would continue to apply in the United Kingdom until the end of the transitional period on 31 December 2020, when it would switch to a “third country” regime.
In case of no agreement on the withdrawal before March 30, 2019, the transition period becoming obsolete, European Union law will cease to apply in the United Kingdom on March 30, 2019. In the technocratic jargon of Brussels , this scenario is called “cliff-edge”, evoking a walk by a thick fog at the edge of the white cliffs of Dover.
The British are still pragmatic people: working documents are starting to circulate on the other side of the Channel, emitting the idea of temporary regimes modeled on European law, which would amount to setting up a sort of unilateral period of transition.
In a recent paper he published on the website of the European Commission, Michel Barnier indicates that we already agree on 80%. Without naming it, he refers to the partial agreement of 19 March on the rights of citizens, the respect of the financial commitments of the United Kingdom (under conditions that I have not yet fully understood), and the period of transition. This is the optimism of the diplomat: the transition period, will be acquired only subject to agreement on everything else : “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed“.
The question of borders
The problem is that the remaining 20% are on the most sensitive topic, the heart of the concerns of citizens, everywhere in Europe: the question of borders.
Bilateral negotiations are underway to resolve the issues of British sovereign bases in Cyprus, or the territory of Gibraltar. They will not be easy to solve: the inhabitants of Gibraltar voted 96% against the Brexit, but in another consultation, they voted 99% to remain British …
Yet, it is the question of Ireland that seems to be the most complicated. The achievements of the so-called “Good Friday” agreement (April 10, 1998), which by removing the militarized border separating the island in two have contributed greatly to the peace between the two camps, must be preserved. But the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU and the choice of Theresa May to withdraw from the European single market and the customs union implies the restoration of customs controls at the border between the two Ireland, which became the external border of the EU.
For the amnesiacs and all those who spend most of their time spitting on Europe, I can not resist the temptation to recall with U2 what the Irish conflict meant :
A friend, an Irish Catholic woman born in Londonderry in the sixties, was having lunch at home on Saturday : “There will be dead again!” Good Friday Agreement architects agree that the restoration of a physical border would be catastrophic “It would be a disaster for the peace agreement, Anglo-Irish relations and the people of Northern Ireland,” said Tony Blair, an opinion shared by former Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern.
The European Union also expresses, through Michel Barnier’s teams, a cautious position on the subject. Emphasizing the ability of the EU 27 to improve its proposal for a common regulatory area (in fact a Customs Union) with Northern Ireland.
A little more than two years after the vote, here we are …
It seems like it’s old-fashioned to say that Europe is peace ?
Iconography: setting sun on the “blue stones” of the prehistoric site of Stonehenge, England © Max Alexander
After working as an international banker for emerging countries, Laurent Lascols became global head of country risk / sovereign risk (from 2008 to 2013) then global director of public affairs (from 2014 to 2019) for Societe Generale. In 2021, he founded Aristote, an advisory firm and training organization dedicated to environmental economics, sustainable finance and impact finance.