The divorce proceedings between Britain and the European Union have been going on for two years, and there is no end in sight. Freedom is not encouraging: shops and cafes are empty, there are not enough workers, separatism is growing in Scotland and Northern Ireland. And Brussels threatens London with sanctions. All this – during a pandemic, which also hits the economy. The kingdom is revitalizing trade ties with former colonies, but it is unclear if new contracts will save the day from the crisis.
In 2013, British Prime Minister David Cameron announced that if the Conservatives won, the country could leave the EU. However, he himself did not believe in it. The risky move was supposed to save the prime minister’s political reputation and calm down his Eurosceptic opponents. In 2015, the Tories won, and a referendum was held the following year. Th-ere was only one question on the bulletins: “Should the United Kingdom rema-in a member of the Euro-pean Union or should it leave?”
Cameron was absolutely confident that EU supporters would prevail. He even stopped the preliminary assessment of the consequences of the exit, which was called Brexit (Britain + Exit). But the secessionists won by a three percent margin. It cost the prime minister the chair, he resigned.
Nevertheless, the decision to divorce from Europe was made. At the same time, the alliance turned out to be stronger than Eurosceptics expected. The package of economic agreements, which the new Prime Minister Theresa May tried to agree with the government, caused a lot of controversy and ended with her resignation. The case was brought to an end by the current Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
Brexit happened on January 31, 2020. The coronavirus pandemic soon began. The rapid restructuring of the British economy and restrictions on the work of business dealt a double blow to the kingdom – it was a “perfect storm”.
Boris Johnson’s office can barely cope with it. The losses from Brexit were 178 times greater than the gains from trade deals concluded in 2021 by the government. So say analysts of the newspaper The Inde-pendent. According to the study, over the next 15 years, these contracts will bring no more than 0.2 percent of the country’s GDP, and the losses from leaving the EU will amount to four percent. That is, every Briton will lose about 1240 pounds annually.
According to the British Bureau of Fiscal Responsibility (OBR), the economic crisis will lead to the maximum rise in prices over the past 30 years and a jump in inflation to five percent in the near future.
“Britain doesn’t need us”
The crisis showed that Theresa May’s opponents were right: the connection of the British island with t-he continent is stronger th-an any agreement. And the gap turned out to be pai-nful. For example, it turned out that the labor market in the kingdom is highly dependent on migrants from Eastern Europe. They worked as drivers, cooks, builders, but during the lockdown they preferred to return home. In addition, Britain was forced to update the rules of employment for newcomers. This led to a complex and cumbersome bureaucracy – it’s easier not to mess around.
Transportation was hit particularly hard. Twenty thousand truck drivers have returned to the mainland. “The British society has decided that the Polish people after Brexit do not deserve a job in the country,” complained to NBC Portal Artur Jazhebski, who transported goods on the roads of the United Kingdom for ten years.
Truckers from Britain are also on strike. One of them told The Guardian that on the border with France he was fined three hundred pounds: the customs simply did not have time to check the multi-page package of documents for entry, and they are valid only for a day. On both sides of the English Channel, kilometers-long queues of trucks regularly line up. Britain, according to the driver, has become a laughing stock for Europe with its Brexit.
The fishing industry also suffered. At the beginning of 2020, British companies that sent crabs and lobsters to French restaurateurs sw-ore that supplies had practically stopped. Then, in Au-gust and September, there was a failure of imports for the larger players. Even McDonald’s stopped selling milkshakes and some drin-ks. And restaurant chain Nando’s has closed 50 out of 400 outlets in Britain.
The food crisis was followed by the fuel crisis. In September, due to a shortage of fuel truck drivers, queues formed at the filling stations. The British were buying up fuel in a panic. The government is ready to issue five thousand simplified visas for truckers, but they do not seek to Britain.
Europe is crying too
Scottish journalist Gavin Esler, quoted by the Daily Mail, considers Brexit to be a ticking time bomb that could destroy the United K-ingdom. Most Scots, he sa-id, are disgusted with current events. This is fraught with the departure of Edinburgh, and then, probably, Belfast. He sees a possible political crisis “even worse than Brexit itself.”
The divorce from Eu-rope has indeed exacerbated Britain’s relationship with Northern Ireland. Tr-ue, so far not political, but commercial. After leaving the EU Customs Union, the autonomy remained in the single European market and now suffers from bureaucracy. Due to the long process of checking the goods, the shelves of the Ulster stores were empty.
Therefore, in 2021, Boris Johnson’s cabinet unilaterally, without consulting Brussels, extended the simplified customs regime between Northern Ireland and the British island. Moreover, a complete stop by London of the current trade rules is on the agenda. This option is provided for by Article 16 of the protocol included in the Brexit package.
According to the same document, the EU has the right to take “symmetrical measures”. In November, the European Commission announced the preparation of deterrent sanctions. Whi-ch ones, it is not yet clear.
However, there is no consensus among politicians in Europe itself regarding Brexit. In November, the French government’s secretary of state for European affairs, Clement Bon, said it was “an outburst of rage against the British authorities.” “Look at the migration crisis. Look at the single market and economy: where are they? We need Europ-ean cooperation,” Bon exclaimed on French TV.
He was referring to a protracted dispute with Britain over the issuance of fishing licenses to French vessels. The ship owners must now prove that they worked in British waters prior to 2016, otherwise they will not be able to continue fishing. Many fishermen from France were denied licenses due to the same bureaucratic red tape.
Between China and the USA
Meanwhile, London in-tends to strengthen economic ties with Asia and Australia. “We will become a center of trade with influence far beyond our shores, defining our role in the world for decades to co-me,” said Liz Truss, Mini-ster for International Trade in 2020. So she commented on a trip to Singapore, where the states signed an agreement that “will provide a gateway to Asia for British companies.”
Truss then visited Vietnam and entered into a trade agreement that would remove 99 percent of trade duties for the next seven years. In May 2021, they signed an agreement with India. In early June – with Australia. Canada and New Zealand are next.
Almost all of these countries are members of the Commonwealth of Nations, created back in 1931. Although in a political context, its role has long been lost. Back in the 1960s, British Prime Minister Harold Macmillan hoped that the structure would attract the new states of Asia and Africa, keeping them from going over to the socialist camp. Since then, it has existed only on paper, without the status of an administrative unit. The participating countries also have no mutual economic preferences.
True, Britain itself doubts the effectiveness of eastern expansion. Alan Winters, professor of economics at the University of Sussex, argues that it does not provide any fundamentally new benefits. The exceptions are deals with Australia and New Zealand, but they only account for a small share of British foreign trade.
Point on the empire
“It is logical for Britain to integrate in this rapidly growing region, which, apparently, will be the epicenter of economic development in the next ten to twenty years,” said Sergei Fedorov, a leading researcher at the RAS Institute of Europe.
The political scientist sees opportunities for this precisely in the rejection of the colonial past. “Yes, Australia and New Zealand have Anglo-Saxon roots, and there are many Indians in Britain. The memory of the empire, especially for India, is rather negative,” says Fedorov,” Natalya Eremina, professor at the Faculty of International Relations, St.
And although there is still a huge trade turnover between Britain and the EU, Brussels will always defend its own principles, especially when it comes to separatism. It is important for Europe to show that any semblance of Brexit entails dire consequences for those wishing to leave the union. Therefore, the debate on the Northern Ireland question is unlikely to end soon.
“For the EU, any chan-ges in the system of checks and controls seem to be a threat. But Brussels cannot do anything to forestall the situation,” says Eremina.
In Britain, they are also faithful to the chosen course. David Davis, former secretary of the European Union Secession, tweeted: “The Northern Ireland Protocol reflects the essence of the entire referendum – our sovereignty. I welcome the development of trade relations, but we will not get the full taste of Brexit until Northern Ireland is free EU laws “.
The position of other British politicians, as well as historians and columnists, who supported the majority choice five years ago, has not changed either. They call for resolving the controversial issues of the agreement in favor of London. And finally, gain the long-awaited independence.