EU and the UK will survive Brexit

EU and the UK will survive Brexit

The decision of the British people on June 23, 2016 to leave the European Union is still a matter of discussion within the United Kingdom. 

Two articles written this weekend in the British press gave a new momentum to the discussion. The first, authored by former Labour Foreign Secretary David Miliband, appeared in the Observer. Arguing that Brexit would result in an “unparalleled act of economic self-harm,” Miliband suggested that the decision and the result of the June 2016 referendum should be reviewed.

Miliband, not in contradiction to many who argue that the U.K. should remain in the EU, sees the union as more than an economic bloc. No one could disagree with Miliband in his vision of the EU as he describes it as “a coalition of democratic states which pledge to advance human rights, the rule of law and democratic rules.” The former foreign secretary underlines that “this is not a threat to Britain, it is the team that the U.K. should be on.”

It is true that the EU is more than an economic bloc. Most of the Brexiteers insist that the U.K. should continue to be only a part of the “single market” but would definitely distance itself from its liberal policies of immigration. This is not acceptable for Brussels, neither for Angela Merkel, nor for Emmanuel Macron. The continent favors a “hard Brexit” for the U.K., leaving the union with all of its benefits.

The second article, which appeared in the Sunday Telegraph over the weekend, was co-authored by Philip Hammond, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and Dr. Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary. The two important heavy weights of Theresa May’s government jointly argued that there would not be any attempt to negotiate with Brussels, and that the U.K. was seriously moving toward a “hard Brexit,” namely leaving for good, without any compromising solution such as the customs union.

What Miliband defended was relatively weakened as it became apparent that the government was unified around the idea that the moment of truth for the U.K. would come in March 2019. Obviously, London is building solid consensus at the cabinet level to give a strong leverage to the Prime Minister both in her negotiations with Brussels as well as in the country.

Things may not go as smooth as they appear today. Theresa May’s government is preparing a bill to transfer EU legislation into U.K. law. The bill will be debated in the parliaments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in fall this year. Scotland has made it clear that the legislative body in Edinburgh will not support the bill. 

The issue is also debated in Wales. The Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru is opposing the bill, too, arguing that it will weaken the democratic powers of the local parliaments and let Westminster grab power. Other opposition parties are equally concerned. Many believe that reaction to the bill in Wales is increasing.

In Northern Ireland, the coalition government of the alliance between Sinn Fein and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) has collapsed. Theresa May established the new government in London with the support of the DUP. As Brexit would create many complications about the transparency of border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, the decision of the legislative body in Belfast would also incline toward the rejection of the bill.

Is it possible for the government in London to ignore the will of the peoples of constituent bodies of the U.K.? Although Westminster is not bound by the decisions of local governments, there are no precedents for the central government to ignore them entirely. Therefore, the U.K. is going to pass through a serious test of democracy in fall this year.

It is amazing to observe the ongoing discussion among the British public on an issue which is highly critical for the country as well as for the future of Europe. The transparency, the challenging and questioning opinions on the results of the referendum and attempts to put forth new ideas and visions are all adding to the democratic governance in the country. This is the most important asset which will keep the U.K. and the EU in tune even after Brexit, no matter how stormy it may happen.