May 19, 2024

could mean the end of the UK or the EU

Today’s Events in Historical Perspective
America’s Longest-Running Column Founded 1932
Brexit could mean the end of the UK or the EU
By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift
          WASHINGTON –At long last, after three years of drama and two failed prime ministers, Brexit crossed the finish line on Friday, January 31. That means the United Kingdom has officially left the European Union and will be on its own to negotiate trade agreements and a host of other arrangements having to do with everything from law enforcement data sharing and security to the licensing and regulation of pharmaceuticals.
          Backers of Brexit wanted freedom from all the regulations imposed by the European Union (EU) on its 28-member (now 27) countries, and they will have 11 months, until the end of 2020, to make the transition. During that time, the British people can continue to travel freely throughout Europe with their EU passports.
          Backers of Brexit call this the implementation period. Opponents of Brexit have another term for what’s happening. They call it the nightmare scenario.
          First, Brexit could lead to the breakup of the U.K. Voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay in the EU, and they’re not happy. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson says the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will stay open, but hard right Brexiteers oppose any kind of accommodation.
          Second, there’s the economic hit. JPMorgan Chase moved its European headquarters out of London to Paris, signaling the decline of London as the financial capital of the world.
          Third, the U.K.’s auto industry is already hurting as it gears up for a post-Brexit world where queues form at customs checkpoints and duties must be paid throughout Europe in the normal course of doing business.
          Fourth, Boris Johnson thinks he can make up for lost ground on trade by drawing closer to his populist doppelganger, Donald Trump. But that’s tough to pull off since the bulk of the U.K.s trade is with the EU, and there’s no Chunnel connecting London and New York to facilitate commerce.
          Members of the EU Parliament linked arms and sang Auld Lang Syne as they bid farewell to the U.K. delegation. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, “We will always love you and we will never be far. … Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depth of love.”
          Flowery words aside, von der Leyen is a tough bargainer, and the kind of a deal that she and others are able to strike on behalf of the EU will determine not only how well the U.K. survives Brexit, but the very survival of the EU itself.
          She knows the stakes. As the longest-serving member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Cabinet, and most recently Merkel’s Defense minister, von der Leyen is at the center of the European power structure, which is fully committed to the future of Europe as an economic and political bloc.
          As the U.K. exits, other member states will be watching to see what kind of a deal London gets. If the EU goes light on London, others will head for the exits. How the EU handles trade agreements and other rules and regulations with the U.K. will determine the EU’s future as well. If the EU caves, that’s the end of the EU. It’s that simple.
          The whole point of Brexit was to get Britain out from under the bureaucracy of the EU and all its rules and regulations. Now the European ministers will have to stand by those regulations, and if the U.K. doesn’t abide by them, they won’t be able to get certain products, and other products will be harder to export.
          Almost every aspect of commerce will be touched in a negative way by Brexit’s entrenchment, yet many celebrate this severing of ties with Europe as a decisive blow against the imagined evils of collective action. We’ll get to see soon enough who’s right. We will see if Brexit means the breakup of the UK or the EU.
          Douglas Cohn’s latest books are World War 4: Nine Scenarios (endorsed by seven flag officers) and The President’s First Year: The Only School for Presidents Is the Presidency.
          Twitter:  @douglas_cohn
          © 2020 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.
          Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

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