Opinion: What does a hard or soft Brexit mean for New Zealand?

By Macaulay Jones

OPINION: Will you be able to keep streaming the EPL, drinking awful English beers and listening to Ed Sheeran's latest when Brexit happens?

And what even is a hard or soft Brexit? Will that interfere with the beer?

If you like accessing or buying things created overseas you should care about Brexit and its technicalities.

In the wake of becoming Prime Minister, Theresa May proclaimed "Brexit means Brexit". A common question asked, which will affect nations around the world including us, is: will it be a hard or soft Brexit?

The hard/soft Brexit distinction is shorthand for discussing the future of UK membership in the European Union's (EU) single market and customs union, after leaving the organisation. 

Proponents of a soft Brexit argue remaining in the EU single market and customs union is a means of easing the disruption and will continue to allow the free movement of goods services, people and capital between the EU and UK.

Those in favor of a hard Brexit argue staying in the EU's common market or customs union while losing voting power will turn the UK into a vassal state of the EU, while remaining stuck with  the regulations of the EU without having a say in them.

They also say a hard Brexit will be worth it as it will unleash the UK from EU control and enable it to be more competitive and will allow the UK to forge  separate presumably better trade deals with other countries.

It is this ability to negotiate new trade deals which directly impacts third party countries, such as New Zealand. Brexit presents an opportunity for our Government to negotiate a trade deal with the UK that grows the potential market for Kiwi exports in the UK while maintaining pre-Brexit levels of trade with the EU. The UK has already began consultation talks with NZ over a possible future free trade deal, but this will not be possible under a soft Brexit. 

Along with opportunities, a hard Brexit also poses many challenges to New Zealand businesses who export to the UK, particularly if this occurs without a deal being struck. The NZ government is attempting to limit the disruption felt and is offering advice in the case of a no deal Brexit.

Thankfully for agriculture exporters, the UK government has agreed to continue to accept EU model health certificates and establishing listings relating to exports of animals and animal products for at least six months after the UK leaves the EU, deal or no deal.

So, while the hard or soft Brexit debate continues the clock is ticking for Theresa May to find a deal agreeable to the UK people, their Parliament and the EU. The decisive rejection by Parliament of May's proposed transition deal this week demonstrates just how divisive the issue is and difficult it will be for the UK government to find a compromise.

Hard or soft, deal or no deal New Zealand's Trade Minister David Parker has described the UK as "one of New Zealand's oldest friends", and the New Zealand Government will be striving to make the most out of this very messy situation. 

But no matter the case Kiwis will still be able to watch the EPL, listen to Ed Sheeran and even enjoy a lukewarm British beer. 

UK exports outside the EU will continue, but the businesses which produce them will be affected by the disruption caused by Brexit.

Macaulay Jones is policy advisor for Federated Farmers.