Uncertain times in London

August 29, 2016 12:17 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:01 pm IST

Two months since the seemingly irreversible referendum outcome in Britain, there are more questions than answers about the shape of the country’s future in Europe. Had the electorate even remotely sensed the sheer complexity of the now-impending divorce from the European Union, it may have allowed reason to prevail over apprehensions. In the event, practically every single element of the case for Britain staying in the EU, which the Leave camp dismissed as scaremongering, has emerged as a very real concern. Conversely, the Brexit mantra of ‘take control’ rings more hollow with each passing day. Prime Minister Theresa May insists that “Brexit means Brexit”, emphasising at the same time that London would not, until 2017, trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty on leaving the bloc. Even then it is unlikely that the exit procedure will kick in before the French presidential polls next summer and the general elections in Germany a few months later. So, late-2017 is the earliest point that most commentators who believe in the eventuality of Brexit would hazard for the start of exit negotiations. Indeed, there are many who question even the necessity of carrying the outcome of the referendum to its logical end, since Parliament is not bound by the advisory nature of the popular verdict.

Meanwhile, in view of the preference shown in the June vote by a majority of Scots to stay in the EU, the mood in Edinburgh clearly favours a second referendum on Scottish independence. Yet, it is becoming apparent that Brexit will raise the economic burden of an independent Scotland since the bulk of its export revenues accrue from the rest of Britain and not from the bigger bloc of 27 states. Similarly, Northern Ireland is faced with a dilemma over whether the majority regional sentiment to remain should take precedence over the wider British decision to leave. There is palpable disquiet in Belfast and Dublin over the fact that the border-free movement between the north and south of Ireland that followed the historic 1998 Good Friday agreement may be in jeopardy following the verdict. Once London is outside the bloc, the restoration of customs and immigration controls at Newry between Northern Ireland and the Republic would become an inevitable reality, with enormous economic and psychological costs. This sense of uncertainty has gripped the rest of the Union — while central European states are positive about forging a common identity with the rest of the continent, there is anxiety about the future. The only reassuring thought amid this all-round chaos is that the EU is not unused to balancing such emotions.

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