London-EU, a year since the divorce. The future loaded with wild cards for Great Britain and Europe

March 29 2019: is the fixed date for the UK’s definitive exit from the “common home.” Brexit negotiations are ongoing, not without obstacles and new problems and questions on the future of relations between the opposite shores of the English Channel. The difficulties of Premier Theresa May, the EU’s need to undergo an “examination of coscience.” Many challenges ahead, starting with the rights of citizenry, from the common market to Ulster-Ireland relations

Theresa May is still asking herself: why should it be up to me to handle this complex, controversial stage in English history? In fact, the “divorce” between the United Kingdom and the European Union is leaving a deep mark on the life of the Country: political life is divided, the economy still resists but the City predicts dark clouds, while a number of international corporations intend to turn their backs to London in favour of “safer” markets, in Germany, France, or Italy. In the meantime, EBA – European Banking Authority – and EMA – European Medicines Agency – offices are leaving the island, the former for Paris and the latter for Amsterdam. The future is uncertain, amidst the resurgence of separatist claims in Ireland and the risk of negative impact on businesses, trade and employment after having exited the single market. May found herself thinking that she was not the one who initiated the Brexit Referendum …

Cameron, Farage and Theresa… We ought to go back to the 2015 election campaign, where outgoing Conservative Premier David Cameron, in order to ensure a sweeping victory, promised he would hold a popular vote to decide whether to remain or exit the EU, that the UK had joined in 1973. And that’s exactly what happened.

However, the referendum held on June 23 2016, escaped Cameron’s control,

despite his declared pro-remain stance. The turnout at the polls was 72% of all entitled voters: 17.410 million British subjects opted for a NO to Europe (51,9%), the YES-vote was cast by 16. 140 thousand. It signalled the success of UKIP separatists led by Nigel Farage and of the extremist wing of the Tories, Cameron’s Party. As a result, the Country was split in two: London city, Scotland and Northern Ireland gave a majority vote to “remain”, while the rest of the Country chose Brexit (Britain exit). The youths are pro-Europe, senior citizens and working classes want to leave.

Open chapters. The first victim was Cameron, who left n.10 Downing Street a few days later, occupied by a somewhat reluctant Theresa May. Since then, amidst Brexit negotiations, terrorist attacks, and “spy-wars” with Russia, government action was mired. David Davis – rumoured to be a wannabe future Premier – was entrusted with handling the talks with Brussels and the

Brexit Day was thus fixed. The definitive separation from EU-27 will take place on the midnight of March 29 2019, 11.00 pm London time.

The transition period will last 20 months. To date the negotiations have proceeded uphill, marked by frictions, reconciliation, edges to be smoothed out. In essence, the UK had to reassure 3 million Europeans living and working in its territories, that they would be guaranteed the rights acquired so far (the same applies to 300 thousand British citizens living in EU Countries). But London will need to pay 40 to 45 million Euro to the EU owing to budgetary commitments extending until 2020 (Multiannual Financial Framework). The relations between Northern and Southern Ireland remain a hanging issue – and to date no positive solution is on the horizon -. In fact, exit from the UK is bound to re-initiate the erection of barriers, in terms of customs and political action, between Ulster and the Republic of Ireland. With the risk of resurging clashes and internal terrorism.

Is the EU at a crossroads? Moreover, the post-Brexit phase equally deserves attentive reflection. Once the transition period is over, what kind of relations will be established between London and the EU? Will they be marked by a mere customs agreement? Or else – the preferential option of EU insitutions  – will they opt for an Association Agreement similar to those established with third Countries on “friendly terms” with the EU? Other options include the Norwegian model (“close friends”), the Swiss one (bilateral agreements) and the Canadian one (trade agreements). Not to mention that Westminster will need to ratify all agreements with the EU, and the fact that May will obtain a majority cannot be taken for granted. Looking ahead, what if the next elections were won by a Labour-Scots majority strongly against Brexit? Could London reverse its decision, perhaps with a new referendum? In politics there never is a final word. In the meantime, the European Council of March 22-23 put its latest decisions on the subject into writing, with the consensus of all leaders attending the meeting. This event must not be underestimated, given that in the EU the problems abound. The exit of such an important Country is not a good sign

And it should prompt the EU to undergo a thorough examination of conscience:

Why did British citizens prefer leaving the “common home”? Is it the result of populist and Eurosceptic drifts or are there serious reasons linked to the distance between the EU and its citizens, which should lead the EU to undertake thorough and efficient reforms?

“Negative consequences”. Moreover, the “Conclusions” of the Spring summit, having transposed the agreement reached so far between David Davis and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier, recalled the various open chapters. The European Council “calls for increased efforts on the remaining withdrawal issues”, notably regarding Ireland/Northern Ireland. Thus

the European Council “restates the Union’s determination to have as close as possible a partnership with the UK in the future.”

Such a partnership “should cover trade and economic cooperation as well as other areas, in particular the fight against terrorism and international crime, as well as security, defence and foreign policy.” “At the same time, the European Council has to take into account the repeatedly stated positions of the UK, which limit the depth of such a future partnership. Being outside the Customs Union and the Single Market will inevitably lead to frictions in trade. Divergence in external tariffs and internal rules as well as absence of common institutions and a shared legal system, necessitates checks and controls to uphold the integrity of the EU Single Market as well as of the UK market. This unfortunately will have negative economic consequences, in particular in the United Kingdom.”

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