OPINION: It's been two years since the UK voted to leave the European Union.
Yet it still hasn't left. It's still a member. The process of arbitrarily 'leaving' is in chaos, and no one I've talked to has managed to tell me what the country wants.
Not even four university professors who gave a presentation on Brexit to members of the Foreign Press Association gave me any clarity on what it means.
One thing I have concluded is that it symbolises selfish British nationalism, immigrants being used as scapegoats for Britain's problems, and the arrogance of wanting all the benefits of being in the EU without making any compromises.
Let me try to explain this shambles simply.
The European Union
There are 28 countries which are members of the EU. The main benefits include:
- free flow of people within the 28 countries for work or leisure, without the need for a visa or lengthy immigration checks at airports and train stations
- free trade within the 28 countries without tariffs or time-consuming border checks.
- all 28 countries belonging to a customs union, whereby they act as a bloc when negotiating trade relationships with other markets. Those trade arrangements are made by the European Commission, which represents the 28 countries. It imposes tariffs on markets (as it has done recently on the US), and negotiates free trade deals (like it is doing with New Zealand).
Why the UK wants to 'leave'
From what I can surmise from the political rhetoric, these are the reasons the UK wants to abandon its formal relationship with its European family:
- the free flow of people means there are lots of EU nationals in Britain
- these foreigners are allegedly 'stealing' British jobs, and putting pressure on public services like the NHS and social housing
- the customs union means the UK can't do its own trade deals with other countries (like New Zealand), and can't impose its own tariffs
- EU membership means some British laws take a backseat to laws made by the EU Court of Justice. They include legislation on employment, consumer protection, environmental protection, energy generation, and agriculture. This is often referred to by Brexiteers as a threat to Britain's sovereignty (Britain knows first-hand what it's like to steal sovereignty, given the number of indigenous peoples around the world they stole it from).
UK's Brexit deal: 'Hard' vs 'soft'
These terms are thrown around like everyone knows what they mean.
- A 'hard Brexit' refers to what will happen if the UK and the EU can't agree on how the bilateral relationship will work when the UK actually leaves. If there's no consensus and no deal, then the UK will leave the EU without concessions on freedom of trade, etc.
- A 'soft Brexit' refers to an agreement with the EU that will allow the UK to leave the bloc, but still get the benefits of being part of it, like the customs union, and free trade and freedom of movement for holidaymakers (but not migrants).
Prime Minister Theresa May prefers a 'soft Brexit', but only if the deal is not full of compromises. "No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain," she says.
The stumbling blocks
There are so many problems the UK government is trying to overcome.
- The EU won't give the UK a good deal because it could encourage other EU members to leave too (Italy is the latest to be discussing it).
- The UK is unwilling to compromise on wanting all the benefits (like free trade, customs union, etc) but none of what it sees as the negatives (like having people who don't speak English living in Britain).
- Scotland is considering another vote on leaving the UK so it can remain in the EU.
- The Irish border. A huge problem. The Republic of Ireland is a member of the EU, but Northern Ireland is under the control of the UK. There is no real border between these two countries; there are 275 crossing points between the two which are used each month by 177,000 trucks, 208,000 vans, and 1.8m cars. The UK wants to keep this border 'soft', but the EU is unlikely to accept that for fears of it creating a backdoor into Britain. Solution: Build a massive wall? Reunification of Ireland?
- Revolt from industry. Manufacturers like Airbus, Rolls Royce, and Jaguar Land Rover have either already announced plans to cut thousands of jobs, or plans to move thousands of jobs to mainland Europe. Airbus employs around 14,000 people in Britain who make vital componentry for planes like wings. If there's a hard Brexit, Airbus has indicated it will move all those jobs to France, Germany, or Spain where Airbus has other factories. A British icon is the Mini, which is made by BMW in Oxford, which has also started assembly of the new electric Mini. They have componentry from all over the EU, which is sent to Oxford with no red tape and minimal customs checks. Could this be under threat too?
- Another referendum? Because the first referendum was a simple 'leave' or 'remain' vote, there's an appetite building for another referendum on whatever proposal Theresa May comes up with.
So what's next?
It's anyone's guess. Theresa May is at the helm of a very delicate Brexit boat and she's sailing it through a storm that shows no sign of stopping.
The actual Brexit divorce deadline is 11pm on March 29, 2019 and there's still a long way to go for the Conservative Government, which has this see-saw of legislation going from the lower House of Commons to the upper House of Lords.
- Sick British MP wheeled into parliament in pyjamas to vote on Brexit
- Food scarce in just two weeks if no Brexit deal reached - report
Overlaying this complex political process is political instability. There's a massive political guillotine hanging over the government, with talks of a snap election and a possible change of government. That would almost guarantee the Brexit deadline having to be extended, or the EU just unilaterally kicking the UK out of the union.
I recently heard someone say that Theresa May is sleepwalking into a disaster when it comes to Brexit. It seems no matter what Brexit deal she gets, if any, it will be a disaster. Market instability is growing, and it will get more turbulent the longer this experiment goes on for.
So what is Brexit? It's the result of an irrational panic attack by the UK people who believe non-English speakers are talking over their country, stealing their jobs, and claiming their taxes as welfare payments, while the countries they are from are benefiting from a prospering Britain, and stealing Britain's sovereignty.
Lloyd Burr is Newshub's Europe correspondent.