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Hyper partisanship has taken over the debate in the U.K. The traditional major divisions along the lines of Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat have given way, for the most part, to the simplistic pro- or anti- Brexit. Even that term is confusing for Americans. “Brexit” in this case means breaking away from the original accord in regard to a membership in the EU, a primarily, though not exclusively, economic formation of European nations operating along lines of agreement on trade, tariffs, investment, banking, immigration, etc. As confusing as politics can be in the United States, the considerable loss of sovereignty implicit in the creation of and membership in the EU is incomprehensible for Americans. Of course, for the average Brit there is the old rhetorical haven of – “they’re all crooks!” That’s something their American cousin fully understands. The academic response from the beginning of the EU was that nations joining together created economic and other benefits far outweighing the perceived loss of traditional concepts of sovereignty.
From a legal standpoint, the “leavers” have a more difficult road to travel than they originally expected. The “remainers” count on the negative fact that there is a strongly supported view on the Left and Center that existing “advantages” such as cross-border travel and employment – among other important issues – will no longer exist. Additionally, the “remainers” point to the sticky circumstances of the now open border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland becoming closed and thus subject to all the usual economic, political and security concerns. The “leavers” have countered that concern by stating that effectively the concept of relatively open borders will stay virtually the same. Of course, the “remainers” don’t believe a word and point to the lack of serious response to the potential loss of membership in various key EU institutions in the areas of atomic energy, medicine, Court of Justice, etc.
Employment regulations now agreed under the EU process are seen by those opposed to Brexit to be in jeopardy, as would be a host of other existing statutes and accords. As an example of the difficulties introduced by leaving the EU is the widely held impact this action would have on agriculture in the UK. Apparently, farms in the British Isles have been using large numbers of foreign workers. The National Farmers Union has warned of a six-month delay in EU-sourced food supplies if no deal is arrived at to overcome this shortfall. This combined with the expected restriction on foreign labor in the UK has to be addressed.
This latter situation of availability of foreign workers is a matter already under consideration by the current Brexit-supporting Conservative government. Consideration of creating a new temporary worker visa program was recently announced but, unfortunately, not yet agreed upon by parliament. The problem the government would be facing in this regard is the differences in the various work disciplines needed and how long each sector of workers should be authorized to stay to complete their activities. Obviously, construction workers from Poland would need far longer length visas than Romanian seasonal apple pickers. Ultimately, a UK no longer part of the EU realistically would have to reconsider their overall immigration policy as more key foreign workers on original temporary visas seek to make the UK their permanent home. This is something the United States has had to deal with for years.
The truth is that with the myriad of problems yet to be solved, without substantial internal negotiated agreement, it’s very hard to see anything other than typical long-term internal political discord. For generations, Britain had been famous for its attitude on restrictive immigration policy. Membership in the EU in the recent past lessened these controls. Will that continue – and what about new EU citizens? It’s rather obvious that if positions were reversed in the UK, and Labour was broadly supportive of Brexit (“leavers”) and the Tories were equally broadly “remainers,” the same argument pro and con would be put forth with only slight changes in rhetoric and argument. The United States is used to such hypocrisy in its primarily two-party system. If there isn’t an obvious and immediate difference of opinion, one will be found. That’s what passes for democracy these days.
Of course, this theoretical switching of sides is pure speculation because the historic instinct of the Labour Party is to tend to support most all political circumstances that suggest an internationalization of accords that require group decisions over individual responsibility. Similarly, the Conservatives pretend to a perception of economic life that can only be effective if private business and ownership prevails. In the end, of course, combinations of the two theories of political economics tend to exist while continuing to pledge allegiance to one or the other optimum. At the same time when dealing with Northern Ireland, politicians vigorously support concepts that are quite different than the rest of the country. It seems that after all, the Irish in any form must be dealt with as unique. And the Irish agree!
Meanwhile, the sixty-year-old Institute for Economic Affairs has provocatively called for the elimination of all tariffs and quotas on all products not produced in the UK. They have called for the UK to join numerous global trade groups and add to the overall controversy by saying the EU is bad for growth in Britain. There is no question as to which side of Brexit they stand.
So it goes. All must be decided by March 2019. The battle goes on while Germany sits back smiling with its dominance of the EU’s financial and economic life. Meanwhile, the British public is footing the bill for their Army, Navy and Air Force spread thinly around the world playing good allies with the United States. Leave or remain, the question is, “Mate,’ oo won the War?” “The Germans did. ‘Avin’t yuh noticed?”