The pound has taken another dip and disappointing inflation figures have meant no hope of a rise in interest rates and knock on boost to savings. Whether or not you’re entirely clued up with what that means for the man or woman on the street, it’s clear that the economy is having a tough time of it. And there’s one cause that is repeatedly made responsible: Brexit.
When the country voted to leave the EU last year by the smallest of margins it seemed to come as a shock to most – especially the politicians. Since then, the process of easing the UK out of the EU has felt confused and chaotic. Many in the EU are angry that the UK is leaving and there have been warnings that the process won’t be made simple.
Even setting the timetable for talks has been contentious – European Commission chiefs have made it clear that their preference is that Britain leaves and then crucial trade talks take place. Brexit secretary David Davis, on the other hand, is insisting that both take place in parallel. And now, just this week, the government is to release strategy papers that outline its position on key positions on everything from goods to data protection. So, much of the process remains unclear – but is there anything that we do know?
The Brexit positions taken so far
Northern Ireland – Brexit has created a renewed tension in Northern Ireland as the border between north and south suddenly becomes a border between UK and EU. The government insists that there will be “no return to the hard borders of the past” and is trying to negotiate a new customs partnership that would avoid the need for a new EU-UK border in Northern Ireland. A streamlined customs agreement and using technology to keep border traffic moving are key to the proposals.
European Court of Justice – ending the influence of European courts over UK laws was a big part of Theresa May’s recent rhetoric to “take back control of our laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction.” However, this month it was revealed that a concession was being made on the influence of the European Court of Justice to speed up the Brexit negotiations. Now the government is aiming only to bypass the court’s “direct jurisdiction,” which means that the court will likely still have some say in UK law, although it’s not yet clear how.
Customs – the UK government has proposed “invisible borders’ between the UK and the EU. This would mean that there would be no customs checks at UK borders. Although the suggestion is designed to try and preserve the free trade environment that the UK had access to as part of the EU it has been described by a senior Brexit figure as “a fantasy.”
Free movement – the free movement of people throughout the EU was perhaps one of the biggest motivations for many who voted Brexit. Closing the UK’s borders to those entering via the EU was a huge PR winner for the likes of UKIP. In July, Chancellor Philip Hammond indicated that – despite speculation – free movement would definitely come to an end when the UK leaves the EU. Which means that citizens from the 27 EU member states will no longer have the right to live and work in the UK – and UK citizens won’t have those rights in Europe either.
Expats – on both sides there is agreement that neither British expats in Europe, nor European expats in the EU should be forced to uproot and leave as a result of Brexit. What’s not clear is how this will apply in practice i.e. rights to education and healthcare, application to children and relatives and who will be enforcing and policing these rights.
The NHS – Brexit campaigners claimed that leaving would free up £350m a week for the NHS once we stopped paying this to the EU. This has since been totally debunked and there will be no extra cash for the NHS when the UK leaves from these mythical EU payments. Instead, the impact that has been felt so far is to staff – for example, the number of EU nurses registering to work in the UK dropped from 1,304 in July 2016 to just 46 in April 2017. As the NHS relies heavily on EU nursing staff that’s a problem.
What’s left to talk about?
The short answer is: everything. Very little has yet been agreed even in principle so the position is far from certain. Key issues over the coming weeks will include how trade will operate between the EU and UK, visa arrangements for UK nationals, whether UK travellers will be entitled to free healthcare in Europe and whether the UK will actually leave the European Atomic Energy Community. Then of course there’s the cost – agreement will need to be reached on what the UK has to pay to leave. The UK government set October – December 2017 as the time period during which they hoped to announced agreement on the basic issues of the separation. The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has set October 2018 as the deadline for a hard deal to give the ratification process time to clear before March 2019 when the UK will finally depart. Whether the deadlines are met – and with what deal in place – is currently anyone’s guess.