Rhinegold Away we go. Now the fun really begins

Geoffrey Brown

Brexit – it’s not looking good

8:00, 4th May 2017

Article 50 has been triggered and away we go – the UK has under two years before it leaves the European Union.

So the fun really begins. Until now, we have had pretty meaningless discussions and statements about the future – ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and all that nonsense. Shortly, however, real negotiations will start on the specific detail of the post-Brexit arrangements – for the UK with the EU, with the World Trade Organization, and with other potential trading partners. These specific discussions will also have a bearing on our work and our personal lives. All of these bring challenges and potential problems, and it will be really interesting to see whether the British people still believe, once they have realised the actual implications of this brave new world, that this is where they really want to go.

Gloomy prognosis: Geoffrey Brown
Gloomy prognosis: Geoffrey Brown

Let’s start with the big picture: our new arrangements with the EU. There are several challenges here. First, whatever deal is to be done will not be done within the next two years – serious discussions are unlikely to even start until after the French and German elections later this year. So there will have to be some sort of temporary arrangement that covers the period from two years hence, when we leave the EU, to the time when a new deal is finally agreed. As an aside, I would just add that it is highly likely that the Tories’ bête noire, the European Court of Justice, will continue in a new role as Court of Arbitration of any temporary arrangement between the UK and the EU, and may well have an ongoing role as arbitrator in respect of any future UK-EU trade deal.

Then there are trade deals with the rest of the world; noting that the EU-Canada deal took eight years, we can presume these will not happen overnight, either. Many of these are potentially problematic in their own way: will a USA led by Donald ‘America First’ Trump bend over backwards to accommodate the UK? Hardly – they are more likely to demand that the UK scrap its anti-GM crops regulations and open up the NHS to American sub-contractors.

As for deals with Australia and New Zealand, this is fine, but what exactly do they have to offer that we really want to buy? Let’s remember that the trade deals that work best are the ones with neighbouring countries. It is also worth noting that any trade deal usually implies a certain level of freedom of movement of workers between the signatory countries, which is hardly likely to help the goal of reducing immigration to the tens of thousands. There are already problems emerging here, such as EU citizens working in the NHS and other areas who are leaving – who will replace them?

On a practical level, for travel in Europe, there could be all sorts of new challenges that make life just a little more difficult across the board, ranging from the introduction of some sort of visa system through to possible reintroduction of high roaming charges once we are outside the new standard rate zone established for EU member states. In addition, the UK will have to negotiate to join the European Common Aviation Area. At the very least, it will be inconvenient and involve more paperwork, but it could also make things more expensive, and inhibit the activities of those who are involved with touring artists and companies.

Closer to home, there are challenges such as the possibility of a new ‘hard’ border between Ireland and Northern Ireland – without one, anyone from anywhere in Europe can enter Ireland and cross to the UK – I can’t imagine this will be seen as a good idea. And, from the other side, if the UK has new trade deals with other countries which means imports come into Northern Ireland, there would be nothing to stop them just driving all this across the border and selling it across the EU. I can’t imagine this would be acceptable either. But a new hard border will bring its own problems, stirring up resentment on both sides – with the definite possibility that it could in fact start the ball rolling towards a united Ireland. And let’s not get started on Scotland.

It is, of course, possible that I will be proved totally wrong about all this and that the post Brexit future is indeed the sunlit uplands. Yet, somehow, I fear there is a good chance it could be even worse.

Geoffrey Brown is director of Euclid and a leading independent expert on EU funding for the arts, culture, heritage and the creative industries. He has worked for, with and across the EU for over 20 years. More information at www.euclid.info

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