Where are we now with Brexit?

Roger Putnam writes in this week’s Whitehaven News:

It is over 12 months since the UK voted narrowly to leave the EU, and 5 months since Mrs May triggered Article 50, setting the 2 year deadline for BREXIT for March 2019. Yet we see little progress in deciding the precise form that BREXIT should take.

We have still to agree on the rights Europeans in Britain and British residents in Europe should retain. The future of the border on the island of Ireland is deeply contentious. The size of the so-called UK ‘exit bill’, the amount the UK should pay for commitments already entered into, is highly controversial – not helped by juvenile comments from our Foreign Secretary, about ‘having our cake and eating it’ or suggesting the EU ‘go whistle’ for its money. Indeed, the ill-judged approach adopted by our ministerial negotiating team has been superficial and confrontational rather than seeking sensible compromise.

The true cost of leaving Europe becomes steadily clearer. The awesome complexity of ending a 44 year economic and political union, compounded by our serious lack of civil service and negotiating resources, will dominate parliamentary activity, at the cost of other much-needed legislation. The recent EU Withdrawal Bill will be followed by seven other major BREXIT bills in this parliament, covering immigration, agriculture, trade and customs.

The cost of separating from our EU trading partners, currently taking 44% of our exports, is now emerging. Such is the present level of uncertainty, economic growth is slowing dramatically whilst inflation erodes incomes; business and economic confidence and investment are suffering; the pound continues to fall against other currencies; major banks are already setting up alternative office hubs in other European capitals; NHS recruitment is falling dramatically; agriculture is deeply concerned about loss of seasonal European workers and loss of subsidy.

There are also 35 European regulatory bodies needing replacement. New UK bodies, covering medicines, aviation safety and financial services for example, will still need to replicate EU rules to maintain cross-border equivalence. A special issue here in Cumbria is the related decision to pull out of the Euratom treaty, which established the European Atomic Energy Commission. Wisely, the House of Commons Energy select committee is urging the Government to re-examine this, as it would entail disruption of supplies of reactor materials, nuclear fuel and medical isotopes vital for the treatment of cancer. Liberal Democrats are committed to remain within the Euratom Treaty.

These complex issues appear to have been ignored by too many ministers, blithely marching us toward consequences that they appear not to recognise. At the very least, we will require an extended transitional period to sort them all out, as now seems to be accepted by government. This period, in the view of the Liberal Democrats, should include a further public consultation and a comprehensive parliamentary debate including the option to remain within a reformed EU, rather than persisting with this deeply damaging BREXIT process, based on the ‘leave’ vote of just 37% of the electorate.

A final thought, from a recent newspaper letter; “The real monument to those who lost their lives at Passchendaele is not the Menin Gate, it’s the European Union. For the EU has been a damn sight more successful at stopping the pointless slaughter of Europeans.”

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