Sputnik discussed Theresa May’s ‘soft Brexit’ plans with Gavin Barrett, a professor of European Constitutional and Economic Law at University College Dublin.
Sputnik: What are your thoughts on Greening’s suggestions that a second referendum is the only way out of the deadlock that we’re seeing among the politicians right now?
Gavin Barrett: There’s certainly a lot of difficulty with regard to Brexit at the moment in the United Kingdom. Theresa May, with her white paper and with the earlier results of the Chequers summit that she had with her Conservative party and ministers, previously turned decisively towards the so-called soft Brexit but it is proving to be extremely difficult for her to bring the other party members with her in that regard, it’s a highly controversial position to have taken within the Conservative party, at least economically speaking. She doesn’t really have a great deal of choice because, among others, the automobile industry, the car industry in the United Kingdom has made clear that if they do not retain their access to the European markets, they’ll have to move out, and you’re talking about losses of tens of thousands of jobs in that situation. So economically she’s under massive pressure to deliver a soft Brexit, but on the other hand this goes completely against the idea of a global Britain, a kind of buccaneering Britain leaving the ties of the European Union behind it, so it’s enormously controversial, it’s not clear if she’ll actually have a majority to get through a soft Brexit, so perhaps, in those circumstances, a second referendum becomes an option that might be considered. The problem with the second referendum though is that it’s not clear, in fact, that public opinion has shifted all that much since then the first referendum, so it’s not even clear that the second referendum may actually be won.
Sputnik: Do you think most Brexiters want a hard Brexit? That’s what they wanted, they want a clear cut from the EU, they want a lot of freedoms that would not be delivered by this softer version, and if that’s what Brexit is going to look like there’s a good chance many people don’t want that. It’s actually not such a big difference between those who wanted to leave and stay, it was 4%, I believe?
Gavin Barrett: That’s right, there was a 52% to 48% majority in favor of Brexit. The problem is in telling what kind of Brexit voters wanted, it is very difficult to know what kind of Brexit voters wanted. The only thing in the ballot paper was: Do you want to leave the European Union? And voters were given a variety of suggestions by various campaigners before Brexit and during the Brexit referendum process, some of them very prominent ones such as Nigel Farage and Dominic Raab, various people. They were not adverse to the possibility of remaining in the single market and the European economic area, and options like that, which would require a fluid relationship with the European Union, but after the Brexit vote they hardened their positions and said that in order to respect the democratic will of the British people, of the 52% who voted in favor of Brexit, that the only way that you could actually do that would be to cut economic ties with the European Union quite severely.
So for instance, the kind of relationship that Norway has with the European Union, which involves, basically, accepting the European Union regulatory framework, to accept their standards, their safety rules, and so on. The Brexiters claimed afterwards that in order to respect the democratic will of the people you couldn’t have a relationship that fluid. But the problem with acceding to that kind of Brexit, and by the way, Prime Minister of Britain Theresa May acceding to those views, she thought that it would be necessary for Britain to leave the customs union, that it would be necessary for Britain to leave the single market. So she appeared to adopt, in the wake of the referendum, the hard Brexit view, but I think it’s becoming increasingly clear that the economic consequences of that could be absolutely disastrous for the United Kingdom.
For instance, very little provision, if any, would be made in terms of the service industry, including their massive financial services industry, and various manufacturing industries, such as the car industry, also the aircraft manufacturing industry. It might suffer very severely in a situation in which trade links with the rest of the European Union would be cut very severely, so it is becoming increasingly clear that it’s economically untenable to pursue that kind of a radical and hard Brexit, and it also has implications for the relationship between the United Kingdom and its nearest neighbor — the Republic of Ireland. So there are all kinds of negative implications of a hard Brexit like that, but at the same time you’re right, those who are in favor of Brexit, are now saying that’s the only kind of Brexit that is acceptable. I think their view is actually a minority one within the parliament as a whole, but on the other hand, without their support, it is nor clear if Theresa May will have a majority to deliver any kind of Brexit, so it’s a difficult time indeed to be a British Prime Minister at the moment.
Sputnik: What kind of UK do you see after the implementation of the white paper? Is there really going to be much of a significant change?
Gavin Barrett: If it were possible to implement the white paper then the relationship of the United Kingdom with the European Union would continue in some respect, at least ineffectively. It would continue to be some kind of customs union with the rest of the European Union, effectively. At least as far as goods, the export and importation of goods is concerned, it would remain close to the European Union, so that would take a lot of pressure off, in various respects.
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