Fed up with Brexit? You think the problem is impossible to solve? Think again. Here, I’m not going to give you the answer, but several possible answers ! Choose the one you like best.
Solution 1. For a start, as in all UK referendums (or referenda), the outcome is non-binding, because sovereignty is said to lie with the UK government.
So, although the government has already begun official negotiations to leave the EU (“triggering Article 50”) – as confirmed by the European Court of Justice in Dec 2018 – the current UK government can simply just call the whole thing off, cancel Article 50 and put an end to the process.
It could say that the referendum was “Just a bit of a laugh really – nothing serious”! Or admit the truth, and apologise, saying “Sorry, we’re crap. We just couldn’t sort it all out.”
And we’d stay in the EU.
Of course, such a decision might rather miff half the UK population (OK then, the majority: 52%). It would also require a certain amount of fortitude from the UK government – something for which few administrations are particularly renowned.
Solution 2. The referendum choice was either to “remain in” or “leave” the European Union. If “remain in” had won, well that’s easy to implement: you just do nothing and carry on.
But, as Paul Simon said, there are “50 ways to leave your lover”. So what is meant by ‘leave’? Cut all ties and never speak to the EU again, as long as we both shall live? Or leave as the best of pals, and perhaps even with all the old benefits of ‘membership’ of the EU. Or something in between (like Mrs May is trying at the moment).
This is all formally explained in Jacob Viner’s framework for economic integration (The Customs Union Issue, 1950), where he makes it clear that no man is an island, and there are all possible kinds of possible collaborations between nations: from ‘preferential trading area’ through customs unions/common markets and the like to all-out economic integration.
So really “exit” from the EU is, in a sense, impossible. Even if we ´”leave” the EU, we’ll very likely maintain some kind of relationship with it. So there’s no such thing as Brexit: we’ll always have some collaborative relationship with the EU. In other words, the referendum was based on a nonsense.
So again, the government could simply say, “Sorry, the referendum was based on a nonsense. We led you all up the garden path. So-called ‘Brexit’ is a practical impossibility. So let’s call the whole thing off.”
And we’d stay in the EU – miffed Brexiteers and all.
Solution 3. Just leave! Send the EU an email saying “We’ve left. Bye”. Of course, the government may have to pay financial penalties for breaking certain contracts with the EU, and the whole process would undoubtedly be a right mess; with companies not knowing what tariffs, rules, legislation might apply in trading, etc; and people not sure if they could live in the EU or if EU citizens could stay in the UK.
However, it is a possibility –although a messy one.
Solution 4. (My favourite !) The UK government could simply issue an edict, statement or law, whatever, abolishing all import and export tariffs (there are not actually many of the latter).
Remember (and, if you don’t remember, ask any A’ level economics student): tariffs serve 3 purposes only:
- They provide the government with revenue.
- They provide the government with power, by pretending it’s remedying so-called trade distortions.
- They protect and favour producers – usually those who’ve become pally with the government.
I’m going to ignore number 2, because: since when has any government official known about economics, let alone been able to remedy supposed ‘trade distortions’? Governments should simply get out of the way and let business people deal with business, and we’d all be better off.
Re number 1: The UK government makes no more than £5 billion a year from tariffs. For a country with a GDP of £1.5 trillion and a government budget of £800 billion a year, foregoing this amount is not going to make a big hole in its finances.
Re number 3: If producers are advantaged by tariffs, it means they disadvantage consumers. Who pays these tariffs: UK producers? No, we consumers do: the 99% of us who would otherwise pay just the sales price (or a sales price reduced by competition), without the added extra for the tariff.
This may of course put the cat among the pigeons with the EU, which could fear a flood of imports from non-EU countries into the UK, and therefore into the EU; via Ireland, perhaps, as a back door.
As a result, the EU could put tariffs on UK exports into Europe. Such a move would admittedly be harmful for UK exporters, but would also be harmful in equal measure for EU buyers of those UK goods. So the EU would be under severe pressure to either reduce or eliminate such tariffs.
But I thought the EU was all for free trade? Of course, it’s not; its priority is simply to protect certain producers, such as EU agriculture.
Anyway, this would be the EU’s (and perhaps Ireland’s) problem. The EU would be the ones in the wrong: a no-tariff policy benefits more people by promoting trade, which is something it itself admits. (By the way, it would not put the “Good Friday Agreement” between the UK and Ireland into jeopardy: this agreement relates to constitutional and inter-governmental matters, and has nothing to do with trade.)
This solution 4, unlike solutions 1 and 2, would presumably please the Brexiteers, and – as it would likely lead to increased economic activity – would (eventually) please Remainers too.
And, as for “so-called” Brexit, we might not need it. The EU might chuck Britain out. Problem solved. UK business would know where it stood and successive UK governments could then spend the next decade or so trying to re-establish relations with the EU bit by bit and sensibly negotiating all the other matters, e.g. immigration, governmental/institutional co-operation and legal matters.
Anyway, after all this Brexit bother, it’s worth remembering that we so-called Brexiteers and Remainers have much more in common than we realise. We both want to continue trading with Europe, we both want to travel to Europe with a minimum of fuss, re air travel, roaming, etc; we both want a democratic government to look after us (and let’s face it: there’s little difference between EU and UK legislation); and neither of us want to be overwhelmed by immigration either, maybe we’d just disagree about the numbers coming in.
So come on, let’s all party together like its May 2016.