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Is A "Pro European" Brexit Still Possible?

20/04/2017 11:23
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On Tuesday April 18th, Britain's Prime Minister Teresa May called for early elections to take place on the 8th of June in order to have a more unified stance on the tough decisions Britain must take on Brexit. Some suspect it may be because her opposition is weak, but this will also give the government more legitimacy moving forward. "Britain is leaving the European Union and there can be no turning back..." she reiterated for any who still have doubts. "Division in Westminster will risk our ability to make success of Brexit, and it will cause damaging uncertainty and instability to the country," she said.

In February, former President Tony Blair challenged the idea of a "Brexit at any cost" and said although the people had voted for Brexit they did not know what it would entail and they have the right to change their opinion as the realities of the decision become known. The aftermath of a hard Brexit can mean the end of Britain as we know it, as Scotland calls for a referendum for independence. But it will give the U.K. the power to once again take control of its immigration which was one of the main reasons many support Brexit.

There's still time for a "pro European Brexit" argues Professor Simon Hix of London School of Economics and Political Science. What would that mean now? He argues it would have to consist of four elements. One would have to be a bilateral agreement on the rights of EU and U.K. citizens to live, work, and access benefits after paying taxes for a number of years in Britain. There could be something which models the US green card, a "joint EU-UK 'Blue Card' permanent residence scheme." Although this would not mean free movement for the over three million EU citizens in the U.K. or 1.5 million U.K. Citizens in the EU it would lighten "the economic impact" of reducing the labor supply of the two markets.

The second would be a trade agreement between the EU and the UK where it will be necessary to decide what commitments to social and environmental standards Britain is willing to make. Leaving the single market would cost Britain "cost the UK economy between 2 and 5% of GDP over the next 10 to 15 years," Hix explains. A more comprehensive Free Trade Agreement he argues would help alleviate those strains. Third would be some agreement on "payments into the EU budget" as estimates are that the U.K. owes the EU somewhere between €25bn and €60bn in what many refer to as a "divorce bill" which must be accounted for. Hix suggests an independent panel to decide how much of that Britain can agree to pay and the EU accept, implying there may be room for negotiations on the amount owed.

Lastly longer term institutional changes will be necessary in order to ensure continuity on policing and counterterrorism cooperation, "to dispute resolution panels, high-level ministerial councils, to perhaps even an annual EU-UK summit," suggests Hix. "Regardless of the precise terms of any free trade agreement and related arrangements, the UK and the EU will continue to have shared economic, security and defence interests that will need to be addressed."

Hence a "pro European" Brexit is one on which Britain would seek a friendly and close relationship with the EU to maintain close ties where it is most beneficial but still have its own say on immigration, free movement of workers, and other points of concern. A proposal by the Bruegel think tank takes into account that the UK electorate has rejected the free movement of movement but acknowledges that some form of movement of labor would still be necessary. The proposal suggests a structured EU-UK relationships with the EU as the inner circle and an outer circle in the creation of a Continental Partnership that would include UK and other countries outside the EU. Perhaps with some of the points made above there is some hope that Britain can get the flexibility it wants while still having as much integration as would benefit it and reduce some of the harm a cold, hard Brexit would cause.

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