Brexit: An Accident Waiting All Along To Happen
Recent elections in Britain have given the Conservative Party a thumping majority to implement its agenda of Brexit. Boris Johnson vowed confidently in his speech to withdraw from the membership of European Union by the end of January 2020.
The European Union is a group of 28 countries which envisages a common policy on economics, human rights, foreign policy and security. Before the referendum in 2016, there was a debate ongoing in Britain on whether to stay in the European Union or not. It was not until the announcement of Prime Minister David Cameroon that finally Britain took the decision to conduct a referendum on whether to stay in the Union or leave. However David Cameroon expressed his reservations that in case Britain has to leave the union there would be severe repercussions; and in case of exit from the union, Britain would become economically weaker and unstable. Contrary to this point of view, there are a huge number of people who believe that by remaining in the union Britain has already lost its parliamentary sovereignty to Brussels and the European Court of Justice. There is another apprehension that the job prospects for local British nationals have diminished over the years due to the increasing immigrants in the country. Basically the European Union espouses the free flow of goods and services and promotes liberalization policies where there are no hindrances nor any barrier to free flow of labour, as well as goods and services.
Euro-skepticism has now had a profound impact on British society.
After the Second World War, Britain was cautious. It stood back and watched as Europe drew closer in the 1950s with the European Steel and Coal community being formed. Subsequently in the 1960s the European Economic Community was formed and Britain’s entry was opposed by France.vIt was not until 1973 when Britain finally joined the European Economic Community. However the Conservative Party was suspicious of the move as it was of the view that parliamentary sovereignty would be undermined and subdued by the policymakers in Brussels. Hence just two years later in 1975, Britain conducted a referendum – and a majority voted to remain in the European Economic Community.
In the 1980s, manufacturing collapsed in the Britain as Margaret Thatcher’s government brought about radical changes in the economy. Thatcherite politics led Britain to proceed towards privatization, deregulation of banking and financial institutions and also curtailing the power of labour unions. Consequently, the manufacturing sector deteriorated and many people lost their jobs. As a result income disparities increased and the gap between rich and poor widened. People increasingly got dependent on the welfare program. In 2008, Britain was hit by the global financial crisis and the economy plummeted into a recession. There were fewer jobs and the government’s austerity measures led to cuts in social benefits. The most affected were members of the working class for whom life got harder. Much of this fed into a growing dissatisfaction with remaining in the EU.
Moreover in 2015, the situation in the Middle East worsened due to the civil war in Syria and the crisis situation that ensued in other Middle Eastern countries after the Arab Spring revolutions. Refugees started migrating into European countries, many of whom looked towards countries like Italy, Germany and Britain. Hence immigration was a key issue which impacted Britain not only in terms of economy but also in its social and cultural impact. All of this helped set the stage for Brexit.
The immediate political context which actually triggered the referendum to take place in 2016 was that Cameroon, belonging to the Conservative Party, had announced in his electoral campaign that in case he got elected he would organize a referendum on whether to leave or remain in the European Union. His goal here was to gain political mileage over the Euro-skeptic UK Independence Party (UKIP).
Despite the fact that he announced the referendum, he vociferously campaigned to stay in the Union. Many political analysts think that David Cameroon was confident that he would win the referendum as he thought a majority of people would vote to stay. Had he thought otherwise he would not have announced the referendum. Surprisingly when the referendum took place, the results were opposite to what David Cameroon had imagined. 51.9% people had voted to leave the union whereas 48% people had voted to stay. It was a political gamble which had gone bad for David Cameroon.
Since then Britain has been bargaining contentiously over the nation’s withdrawal from the European Union, the process known as Brexit. The government has been in crisis, unable to agree on an approach regarding withdrawal from the EU.The struggle has already cost one prime minister, Theresa May, her job. She announced in late May that she would resign after failing to come up with a plan that satisfied her party, her coalition partners and officials in Brussels (the seat of the European Union).
Many lawmakers were outraged over Boris Johnson’s insistence that if needs be, he would pull Britain from the European Union even without a formal agreement. When Johnson attempted to manipulate the situation by suspending Parliament weeks before the deadline for withdrawal, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that he had acted unlawfully and that Parliament must be allowed to resume as normal.
In October 2019, the prime minister and European Union negotiators announced that they had struck a draft deal, though it needs to clear a hurdle of final approval from the British Parliament and European leaders. The deadline to depart the bloc has been just extended by the European Union, and is now the 31st of January. Now after the withdrawal from EU, which is most likely to happen after the recent Conservative victory, it would be an uphill task for the incumbent government to negotiate individual trade agreements with European countries. This is likely to herald an uncertain situation in Britain which will adversely impact its economy, especially its financial markets. Brexit was an accident waiting to happen!
The writer is a constitutional lawyer,human rights activist and a teacher. He can be contacted at [email protected]