I have been leaning out of Brexit conversation for a number of reasons. One; because in June 2016, at the age of 17, I wasn’t allowed to vote on whether or not Britain should leave the European Union. I had a sensible opinion but was too stubborn to rejoin the conversation I had been unwillingly pushed out of. Two; nothing has actually happened. It’s like we’ve all been standing around talking about how to clean up a mess without doing anything about it. But on the 6th of July at Theresa May’s Chequers country home, the government finally outlined what the future of the U.K.’s relationship with the EU could look like. At least, that was the idea.
The statement opens with a grave reminder that yes, we are still leaving the European Union, and that doomsday (March 29, 2019), is fast approaching. The government proposes maintaining a common rulebook with the EU for goods but, ‘only those necessary to provide for frictionless trade at the border’. The statement even suggests a free trade area for goods yet turns its back on the services that make up almost 80 per cent of the U.K.’s economy.
The government boasts that the proposal strikes a balance of rights, obligations, continuity and change. But the notion of British supremacy underlying most pro-Brexit rhetoric is visible in the Chequers proposals and is frankly unsettling. Restoring power to U.K. courts and governments is seen as a heroic and comforting return home, but the implication that the United Kingdom is somehow superior to a group of 28 countries is pretentious and incorrect.
The second part of the statement reminds the public of the potential benefits of this model, all of which have shaky assumptions. The ‘dual tariff’ system for the single customs area with the EU, for example, depends on technology that doesn’t yet exist to track goods. Moreover, any benefits derived from an independent trade policy rely on the belief that other countries will want to trade with the U.K., which would be surprising given our recent bad behaviour. Ultimately, the transition to a U.K. free of the European Union will make transactions lengthier and more complex. This is simply not balanced out by not having to make annual payments to the EU budget or having autonomy over a few more rules.
The deal was clearly an attempt by Mrs May to appease both sides of the Brexit debate: take back our control over EU waters but have access to their markets for our fish products; implement a tighter stance on immigration but allow for a ‘mobility framework’ for students, tourists, and workers. Unfortunately, the opposite has happened.
In David Davis’ resignation letter to the PM he described the control that would come about from the proposed deal as being ‘illusory rather than real’. Davis was undoubtedly referring to the government’s plan to continue the free movement of goods with the EU but limit the movement of services, capital, and people. Boris Johnson also made reference in his resignation speech to the lack of control the proposal delivered, considering Brexit to be a decision founded primarily on the desire to bring back autonomy to the United Kingdom. In his words, Brexit has been ‘suffocated by needless self-doubt’, suggesting May’s proposal was a basic and unsuccessful attempt to please everyone.
This plan immerses us far enough into the EU to make our trade and immigration more complicated, minus the benefits the group brings. Theresa May looks disorganised, unprepared, and not quite brave enough to put either foot firmly forward.
Anxiety-ridden and sceptical, it’s time to lean back in.