THERESA MAY has signed the letter, a man called Sir Tim Barrow – the UK’s ambassador to the EU – has taken it over to Donald Tusk, President of the European Council and Britain is on our way. We’re not sure where we’re going, or what life will be like when we get there, but we’re going.
This humungous change in the UK’s political future began as a political gamble. Before the 2015 General Election, Tory Prime Minister David Cameron was worried that UKIP seemed to be very popular and may win enough parliamentary seats to deny the Tories a majority and a mandate to form a Government. He therefore adopted UKIP’s key campaign pledge: to hold a referendum on EU membership. The Tories went on to win the General Election, albeit narrowly, and Cameron duly held his referendum. The unthinkable happened, and the referendum voted that Britain should leave the EU.
There are further democratic conundrums along the way. The most obvious is the case of Scotland – a country which did not vote in a single Tory MP for several elections in a row, but was governed by Tories from Westminster, and which voted to “remain” but is now being forced to “leave” on the strength of votes in England. Scotland recently went through its own referendum, on whether the country should leave the United Kingdom. The answer there was “no” – but one of the main arguments in favour of remaining in the UK was that leaving the UK would mean leaving the EU.
Now Scotland is considering having a second referendum in order to consider leaving the UK in order to stay in the EU by itself, which was the argument used by those who wanted to stay in the UK but may now have to leave the UK in order to stay in the EU. And Prime Minister Theresa May has told Scotland they can’t have a referendum and should, effectively, go and sit on the naughty step – pretty much proving what the Scots were saying about Westminster treating the country like a naughty child.
There will now be a period of negotiations, which could last between a year and 18 months, to decide the terms of future relations between the UK and the EU. These will cover issues such as trade – whether taxes will be imposed on what the UK sells to the EU (which will reduce sales and harm our economy) or whether taxes will be imposed on what the EU sells to the UK (which will make goods and services more expensive for us to buy).
There will also have to be a decision on what “Brexit” means for people. Will EU citizens now resident in the UK have to leave? Will new ones be able to come and work in the UK? Will British citizens be able to enter the EU freely? Will we be able to live and work in EU countries? Or will all those pensioners living in Spain have to return to the UK?
In 18 months time, the negotiated new arrangement will have to be ratified by each Member State – or it will fall, in which case the UK will be looking for a new position in the world, making it up from scratch. That’s quite a price to pay for letting David Cameron have his Government – not least because it only lasted a year until the referendum result propelled him out of Number 10.
PS: There are reports that David Cameron in being courted to take over the leadership of NATO, a military alliance of which the UK is a member. Anyone feel a referendum coming on?