With no resolution in site, the U.K. Parliament has been debating how to leave the EU, with hardline Euro-skeptics pushing for a no deal break from the Union and others including the Labour party pushing for a soft Brexit. Theresa May is negotiating with the EU to extend the UK’s exit date until June 30th, which would require the UK to participate in the EU elections this spring 1.
Hardliners argue that a soft break with the EU would violate the public’s policy intentions that they claim were implicit in their vote to leave. Labour‘s soft Brexit includes a customs union with the EU that would guarantee a no tariff relationship with Europe2 as well as membership in the single market.
A major concern about Brexit is how it will impact the relationship between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. How will opportunities across borders remain open? Labour is committed to preventing the return of a hard border between the two. Meanwhile, a record number of U.K. citizens are seeking to become Irish citizens, in many cases in order to continue to be EU citizens3 who have the right to work and live in any country within the Union.
Michel Barnier, the E.U.’s Brexit negotiator, has pledged support for preventing a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland4. He has said that the EU will expect the UK to honor the “backstop” in order to prevent a hard border regardless of whether the UK leaves with an agreement. Republic of Ireland Prime Minister Leo Varadkar has thanked Barnier and has said that other EU members understand the need to protect the 1998 Good Friday agreement4, which brought an end to the decades long Troubles between Britain and the North. Northern Ireland and Scotland, in contrast to England, voted predominantly to stay in the European Union5 raising fears of worsening tensions in Northern Ireland. This provides a new reason for seeking independence from the UK in order to join the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the European Union.
Concerns about the economic impact of the UK leaving the EU are rooted in fears that business and jobs will go elsewhere in order to find a more favorable business environment. Citigroup’s CEO Michael Corbat has warned that Brexit may threaten London’s position as a leading financial center6. According to a Bloomberg opinion piece, Citigroup, Goldman Sachs Inc., Morgan Stanley, and JPMorgan Chase & Co. will probably shift about $400 billion of assets in total to continental Europe in the coming years6. The same article predicts the US will also benefit from a redistribution of resources away from the UK.
Nigel Farage, an English businessman and politician, has argued in favor of a hard break with the EU in an Oxford Union debate7. In the debate Farage claimed the vote to leave the EU was also a vote to leave the single market and the customs union. His belief is that the people of the UK have already spoken on these issues. Farage also expressed the view that continental Europe is in decline and that the UK would benefit from more independence from Europe.
While Parliament has struggled to find an agreement on how to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May has been trying to craft a compromise agreement with the Labour party8. With time closing in, Parliament has endorsed the Prime Minister’s latest request to delay Brexit until June 30th. Matthew Pennycook, Labour Party spokesperson, said his party would support May’s extension plan9. The question is: since the parties have seen this coming for two years, how will two more months resolve the impasse?