The bars of Radetzky’s march in Vienna have announced to us in this new year that the United Kingdom completed its unilateral separation with the European Union, ending a relationship of almost half a century. Thus, the British and EU negotiators closed a post-Brexit free trade agreement of minimums on Christmas Eve. A prestigious English newspaper recently published a cartoon depicting Boris Johnson as the Pied Piper of Hamelin enchanting, to the tune of Brexit, much of British society to follow him to the precipice of the unknown. To reach people you have to show them the promised land and, for that, there is nothing like a good story that draws an idyllic world.
His speech has prevailed over English pragmatism. For the prime minister, as well as for other English politicians, Brexit has always been a bargaining chip to gain power because it is the tactic that has provided the most electoral performance: invoking patriotism and blaming all its ills on the EU. In this sense, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, stated: “The decision to leave Europe, this Brexit, is the product of a lot of lies and false promises.” He recently claimed that, following the withdrawal from the EU, Britain would recover enough money to alleviate the weakened NHS (National Health Service).
In the UK the trade agreement is not going to be celebrated with the same joy by everyone. For the more than 16 million who voted to remain in the EU, their feelings are sad and desolate. On the contrary, for the 17 million eurosceptics it is of satisfaction for the victory as Boris Johnson has recently stated in one more proof of his peculiar populism: “The fate of this great country now resides firmly in our hands as we regain control. and sovereignty ”. It should not be forgotten that the UK has as much right to withdraw as others to stay.
Now, once outside the EU, and in order to hide the magnitude of the economic crisis produced by Brexit, it is trying to blame Covid-19 for its consequences. Once again, those responsible for his erratic management are everyone else except him. But it will not be able to mask for long the perfect storm due to a multifactorial crisis that the United Kingdom is experiencing, formed by the three Cs (customs – customs – crisis and coronavirus) as the English public opinion calls it. The Bank of England and various government studies warn of serious post-Brexit economic “shocks”.
The EU, for its part, has not welcomed the loss of an important partner such as the United Kingdom, although it has felt some relief. Since joining the European Economic Community in 1973, he has always been an uncomfortable member. If the achievements of an organization are the sum of individual efforts, the United Kingdom has been a drag on the process of political and economic integration.
There is an Andalusian song that says: “Something dies in the soul, when a friend leaves.” The British Prime Minister never tires of repeating that they are our most faithful friends, but they have concealed it very well in all this time. Life experience teaches us that true friends are known by their actions. Therefore, it should be remembered that the United Kingdom did not participate in the Schengen Agreement (1995), rejected the euro and the Economic and Monetary Union (2002), did not sign the Treaty for the Stability, Coordination and Governance of the EMU (2012 ) and rejected the European pact to reinforce fiscal discipline (2013). More recently, he has refused a new referendum when the previous one was, in my opinion, based on lies and had a not very high turnout (71%). While those under 50 years of age voted against Brexit, those over 50 did so in favor, especially in rural areas. Withdrawal from the EU is a deeply selfish and discriminatory decision from a generational point of view. Possibly with that background and without Brexit, the outcome of the European summit last July, in which the European Union Solidarity Fund was approved to deal with serious public health emergencies, would have been very different.
Polls in the UK say that the British want more talk about the pandemic, economic revival and social protection. However, the nature of the new relationship between the UK and the EU means that many things will be different.
The trade agreement avoids the tariffs that are imposed on goods, but it does not save more paperwork for companies and people traveling to EU countries. There will be more additional controls at the borders, as well as customs and security declarations. In short, more bureaucracy, more obstacles and more costs.
The free movement of people, between the two sides of the English Channel, will end and will be replaced in the UK by a ‘point-based’ immigration system for both the EU and people from other parts of the world. Also, anyone from the UK who wants to stay in the EU for more than 90 days, in any 180-day period, will need a visa.
Despite Boris Johnson’s promises and a House of Lords Committee for the EU report warning that the benefits of the Erasmus program would be very difficult to replace with a national program, the country has sadly announced that You will no longer participate in that program and will replace it with a new one. According to Johnson, students “would have the opportunity not only to go to European universities, but to go to the best universities in the world.” It was not necessary to leave the EU for this. Nothing prevented the British from establishing a program of their own to travel to universities other than the EU.
Nor have the government’s promises that the UK would maintain “exactly the same benefits” as it had as a member of the EU, and that they could never have been realized. However, the country will continue to be in a worse situation than it was while it was in the EU, and there is still uncertainty about what will happen to the banking and services that represent 80% of its economy. In certain areas, the UK has always sought to maintain a special position. Like that community of neighbors in which one of its owners decides not to pay, but wants to continue enjoying the services.
There is a phrase from Winston Churchill, former British Prime Minister, that adequately defines the current sentiment of the United Kingdom: “You must know that, if we have to choose between Europe and the open seas, we will always choose the open seas.”
Vicente Castelló is Professor at the Jaume I University and member of the Interuniversity Institute for Local Development