Last week Theresa May announced that the UK was preparing for a ‘hard’ Brexit, meaning that the UK had given up any notion of retaining access to the EU’s single market and customs union.
May’s announcement merely acknowledged the inevitable. The EU has insisted throughout the period after the Brexit vote that the UK would not be allowed to pick and choose the bits of the EU edifice it wished to retain and which to discard, while May fed the illusion that this somehow remained an option for the UK while she dithered and prevaricated on the manner of the UK’s departure.
The die is now cast.
At the same time no such clarity exists regarding the UK’s own management of the Brexit process itself. This was always going to be a highly complex undertaking, and, as expected, the UK’s handling of the Brexit process has been disorganized and confused.
A merry-go-round of bureaucratic hitches and derailments was always on the cards, since oversight of Brexit has been entrusted to a separate ad hoc department created specifically for this purpose, instead of the traditional government departments (Treasury, Trade and Industry, Foreign Office, Immigration, etc.), as might be expected.
Large areas of UK law will have to be disentangled from the EU’s legal system– there are 80,000 pages of EU agreements on legal issues, and deciding what to retain in British law and what to jettison is going to be a messy business.
An army of civil servants will be required for years to implement Brexit. This comes at a time when the civil service is at a low ebb, both in terms of numbers and morale. Meanwhile the civil service, which employs 392,500 full-time staff, is at its smallest since the second world war. The Tory government has attacked civil service jobs, pensions and resources since it came to power in 2010.
Disdained by the media and politicians for decades, and living with huge cuts to their departments, these bureaucrats will now be needed to ensure stability while their politician-counterparts bask in opportunities to posture in front of their voters.
A large funding gap will be generated when the UK ceases to be a recipient of EU funding. The UK receives EU cash in many different ways but one of the main sources is the European Social Fund, which the UK uses to increase jobs and skills. The current funding round, which runs from 2014 to 2020, is worth about £2.3bn across England.
The Brexit vote unleashed an immediate wave of Little Englander xenophobia, resulting in an epidemic of hate crimes against immigrants, especially those from eastern Europe. The BBC reports that race and religious hate crimes rose 41% after the Brexit vote. The largest increase in hate crimes occurred in the two counties– Lincolnshire and Kent– with the highest percentage of pro-Brexit votes.
An utterly perverse and unfeasible Little Englanderism, envenomed by the Tories and their supporting right-wing tabloids, all in the hope of winning the 2020 general election by gluing the substantial anti-immigrant Brexit voting bloc to the Conservatives, became the order of the day once the referendum result was announced.
With the 2020 election setting priorities as the Brexit negotiations and their outcome loom even larger in the next two years, it is also likely that the agenda entrusted to the Brexit department will be shaped by focus groups and opinion polls, and the wishes of the Tory party’s big donors, which is hardly a recipe for good decision-making.
This article has been excerpted from: ‘Ongoing Brexit Blues’.