Wednesday23 January 2019
Brexit and the British Government’s Draft Plan
Following a referendum on leaving the European Union (EU) in June 2016, in which the majority of Britons voted for divorce from the EU, the new British government was tasked with taking preliminary steps for exiting the union on March 29, 2019. It was also obligated to make a plan on how the UK should deal with the European Union following Brexit. Since that time, many developments have taken place in this regard and a number of members of Prime Minister Theresa May’s cabinet have already tendered their resignations in protest at her draft Brexit plan. Among those resigned, there are David Davis, Britain’s former secretary of state for exiting the European Union, and his successor, Dominic Raab. It is rumored that more British ministers have decided to resign their posts over this issue and even a motion was sent to the parliament for a no-confidence vote against May, though the British prime minister survived the vote.
Contents of the British government’s proposed Brexit plan
The British government’s proposed Brexit plan has been drawn up in 585 pages. At the first glance, the number of pages alone proves that this is a complicated issue as there are many bones of contention to be overcome. No adequate information has been revealed about the contents of the draft Brexit plan, but some information has been made public about Britain’s interaction with the European Union Customs Union, the issue of European immigration, fishing rights, and the issue of Northern Ireland’s border.
The EU Customs Union
The draft plan offered by the British government has noted that London seeks a new deal with the European Union for continued cooperation with its customs union. However, Britain has also indicated that up to the time when the new deal is achieved, London is willing to remain in the EU Customs Union during the transition period, which will extend from official confirmation of Britain’s exit from the EU in March 2019 up to the end of December 2020.
The issue of the customs union is expected to lead to a situation with regard to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, which has turned this part of the deal into a complicated problem for both the British government and the European Union. Due to the common border that the Republic of Ireland has with Northern Ireland, and in order to avoid a hard border option, the EU has proposed a “backstop” option. According to this option, following divorce of Britain from the EU, Northern Ireland will remain a member of the EU Customs Union and the common European market on a provisional basis. At first, it was decided that Northern Ireland will remain within the EU Customs Union up to the end of the transition period. However, to avoid border problems between the two Irelands, Britain then decided that the entire UK must remain within the customs union up to the end of the period of transition.
The problem, however, is that if the UK succeeds in leaving the European Union at the end of the transition period, new conditions and customs rules, which would then govern the UK’s relations with the member states of the European Union, may harm the fragile peace between the two Irelands.
There is a part in the draft Brexit plan, which deals with what happens to citizens of the UK and the EU, who live within the other entity’s borders. According to the plan, after Britain exits the EU, those EU citizens, who have lived in Britain for five consecutive years, can obtain permanent residence in the country along with members of their families. On the other hand, those British citizens, who have lived in a member state of the European Union, along with their family members, for a period of five years, can obtain citizenship and permanent residence of that country.
It continues by announcing that certain limitations may be applied to this group of people during those five years. For example, the host country would not be obliged to provide such people with social assistance in certain fields and would not have to offer education aid or hand out loans to people, who have not obtained permanent residence yet.
As for the freedom of movement of people and free travel to Britain, it has been announced that free travel to the UK for the citizens of the EU would be possible only until the end of the transition period – which expires in December 2020. Therefore, after London exits the EU, that condition would not hold water anymore, though visa-free travel to Britain would be possible.
With regard to fishing rights, the British government has announced that this country will work in a two-way manner with the EU. However, after full exit from the union, the UK will be an independent offshore country. The draft plan has also announced that following Brexit, the British government will be consulted on the existing opportunities in this industry and will be a party to meetings to be held on policymaking in the EU’s fishery sector. Britain is willing to have access to the European market, while the EU seeks free access to Britain’s territorial waters. However, the draft plan has simply noted that Britain will try to regulate its future relations with the EU in this sector within the framework of a new agreement with the union.
With regard to legislative and lawmaking activities, which are now exclusive to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the same situation will continue until the end of the transition period. However, after Brexit becomes complete, the power to interpret laws will be given back to the British courts. There is also a European information center, which addresses issues related to missing European citizens, detentions, DNA testing, fingerprinting, and vehicle registration plates. Britain has announced that it will dissolve this information center once the transition period is over, and will come up with a new framework for further cooperation with the European Union.
With regard to issues related to health care and rendering services to European citizens in the UK or services provided to British citizens in other European countries, the situation will not change until 2020. However, no date has been given for the measures that will be taken afterwards.
The draft plan has projected that British officials will be taking charge of issues related to environment after 2020, including in the field of lawmaking and other relevant measures.
Air travel is another issue of concern. The UK is seeking to conclude a comprehensive agreement with the European Union to keep up cooperation between European airlines and the British Airways under safe and trade-oriented conditions.
The outcomes of positive or negative votes to May’s Brexit plan
The process of Britain’s divorce from the EU has started since November 14, 2018, after the British government gave the green light to draft Brexit agreement. The draft agreement was discussed for confirmation during an EU meeting on November 25. The plan was to be put to vote at the British parliament in the middle of December, but the prime minister suddenly called off the vote so she can go back to Brussels and ask for changes to it. The plan will be discussed by the European Union’s main institutions, including the European Parliament and the European Council. If it gathers enough votes – that is, positive votes of 20 countries, which represent at least 65 percent of the EU’s population – the UK will officially leave the union on March 29, 2019. From that date up to December 2020, there will be a period of transition, which may be extended.
If, on the other hand, the draft plan fails to get enough votes at the European Parliament and the European Council, it would be possible for a new Brexit referendum to be held. Other possibilities in that case, include a no-deal Brexit and even giving up Brexit.
If Britain succeeded in leaving the European Union, it would have a long way to go to regulate its relations with European countries again. Some Brexit critics say that the UK will face uncertain economic conditions following Brexit. On the other hand, the European Union will be also faced with complicated conditions. A major challenge that will face the EU in case of Brexit is that the UK – which always opposed more European convergence – may turn into a role model for other countries to seek similar referendums and leave the union. On the other hand, Britain is a powerful country and is characterized with special political and economic indexes, which cannot be easily ignored. Britain is the fifth biggest economy in the world, is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, and is one of important political powers in the world. In case Britain leaves the European Union, the union will lose 16 percent of its gross domestic product as well as 13 percent of its population. Following Brexit, the European Union will no more be the world’s biggest economy and its welfare indexes will fall as well.
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