The real problem with Brexit

  • 28 Jul - 03 Aug, 2018
  • Shahed Sadullah
  • London Eye

As Pakistan prepares for a new government, the United Kingdom may soon be following in its footsteps. In fact, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn seems so sure that there will be a new election that a press report suggests that he already has a Queen’s speech all written out and ready in his pocket.

Although it is uncertain how far a new government will solve any of Pakistan’s myriad problems given the very similar make-up of the main political parties vying for power, here in the UK it is even more difficult to see how a fresh election will take us any further towards a Brexit deal. Whether it returns the Labour Party or the Conservatives under another leader, the problem will remain exactly where it is.

The ‘problem’, which has so far eluded solution, is that of the border between the Republic of Ireland, an EU country, and Northern Ireland which is part of the United Kingdom. The British Prime Minister has said that the current open border, which was easy to maintain as it was the border between two EU countries, will have to remain open but that the UK would not remain in the single market or the customs union with the EU. In the 25 months following the referendum in which the UK decided to leave the EU, no one has been able to come up with a way to do both things. At a meeting at the Prime Minister’s country retreat of Chequers in Buckinghamshire a week ago, she bore down on the hard Brexiters – those who want to leave the EU on their own terms, even if it means leaving without a deal – to agree to a customs deal which, according to her, would ensure a soft border in Ireland; except that the EU does not appear to think so, putting us all back to square one where we have steadfastly stood for the last two years.

For that matter, Labour does not appear like solving the problem either. It advocates a customs union which would solve the problem of the Irish border but it opens the question whether the EU would allow the UK to join the customs union while keeping out of the single market; and the UK cannot join the single market because that would mean accepting the principle of free movement of people which is the main, if not the sole, reason why the UK voted to leave the EU. Complicating the issue further, Northern Ireland, which is at the centre of entire EU problem, did not vote to leave the EU, and neither did Scotland. England and Wales did.

There is also another item which is to be put on the scales and which is precluding the EU from throwing the UK outright and shutting the door. That is, as is always the final deciding factor in all issues in the west, a question of money. The UK has agreed to pay the EU an amount of £39 billion as an exit fee which offer may easily be withdrawn if there is nothing coming from the other side of the table; and there would not be anything coming from the other side if the EU forced the UK to a hard no deal Brexit. So both sides have an interest in keeping the merry go round going around, except that there is a time frame to all this and given the five or six months the EU will need to ratify any treaty, it seems that time limit would have another thirteen weeks or so to run.

Pakistan Elections

Meanwhile, fever in the Pakistani community here is almost as high as it is in Pakistan over the coming elections, a fever stoked up by the innumerable Pakistani channels one gets to see here, mostly free to air. The divisions between the followers of the respective political parties, particularly the three major ones, are as intense as they are in Pakistan and relations between the groups as tense as they are in Pakistan – perhaps even more so. For while we have not seen too many reports of physical confrontations between PML-N and PTI supporters in Pakistan, here in England we had one such fisticuff breaking out in front of former PM Nawaz Sharif’s Avenfield apartments and the police had to be called in. It seems a bit silly for people to be fighting over an election some five thousand miles away when it is not going to have any effect whatsoever on the lives of Pakistanis settled in the UK. In any case, the projection of the Pakistani elections in the British media is not a particularly positive one with the outbreak of violence, the consistent complaints by virtually all parties except the PTI of the provision of a playing field that is about as level as the North Face of the Everest, and the manner of events surrounding the dismissal and then imprisonment of Nawaz Sharif. The possibility that these divisions within the Pakistani community, both here and in Pakistan, may heighten appreciably after the elections being a very real one, and Brexit being some way short of being a bed of roses, one faces the future with more than just a little bit of trepidation. •