For the last two weeks, Brexit talks and movement have been basically at a standstill as PM May and other political leaders campaigned for the just completed election.
The election results along with other Brexit news indicates that the road ahead may be anything but smooth.
PM May’s Job Just Got Harder
PM May called a general election to strengthen her hand at the negotiating table. Her gamble turned out to be “disastrously” wrong.
Instead of strengthening her hand, her Conservative party lost its majority and May must form a government.
Negotiations with Brussels for the UK’s exit from the EU were set to begin on June 19. The odds of talks actually starting on that date are now slim.
EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier seemed to suggest his willingness to delay the start of talks in a Tweet sent after the election that said “Brexit negotiations should start when the UK is ready; timetable and EU positions are clear. Let’s put our minds together on striking a deal.”
In a letter to PM May EU Council President noted that “We don’t know when Brexit talks start. We know when they must end.”
Media outlets and political analysts around the world were quick to call May’s decision to hold a general election and her party’s losses a disaster both politically and in terms of the Brexit negotiating strategy.
Former Belgian prime minister and the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator called the general election “Yet another own goal, after Cameron now May, will make already complex negotiations even more complicated.”
Former chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne in an interview as results were announced said “‘Hard Brexit’ went in the rubbish bin tonight. Theresa May is probably going to be one of the shortest-serving prime ministers in our history.”
David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, in an interview with the BBC said that the Conservative party might have to walk back the pledge to remove the UK from the single market and customs union.
The only certainties as a result of the election are that negotiations will be more difficult and that political infighting will increase.
Pre-Brexit Trade Deal Unlikely
Even before the general election, leading British business figures stated reaching a trade deal within the Brexit deadline was “impossible.” The likelihood of reaching a deal in light of the election is even more remote.
Here are some of the comments leaders gave to Sky News:
- The Trades Union Congress Secretary General, Frances O’Grady says that expectations of a trade deal by March 2019 are “extremely optimistic.”
- Farmer’s union head Meurig Raymond predicts that the deal will not be complete until the end of the next parliament.
- Justin King, from head of Sainsbury’s think there is no “possibility at all” for a deal, at least one “to any level of detail or quality.”
- Brexit supporter Tim Martin, chairman of Wetherspoons pubs does not think a deal is possible and thinks at a switch to World Trade Organisation terms is preferable.
Populism on the Wane?
Even before the election, many political observers and analysts have stated that the so called “populist” movement is on the decline. They pointed to Macron defeat of populist Marine Le Pen, the defeat of Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, and the turmoil within the UKIP as indicators, as well as the turmoil that has been a constant part of Donald Trump’s administration.
Those predictions seemed to be correct in England as the UKIP suffered further losses in the general election.
Many of the same analysts have noted that in the US and the UK that the populist movement has all but erased the political centre. The lack of a middle ground may further hinder the Brexit negotiations.
Another Crime and Security Problem
According to Liberal Democrat Nick Clegg the UK could lose access to the Schengen Information System as a result of Brexit. The system allows law enforcement personnel across the EU to access information on criminals and suspects.
The Conservatives called the claim “nonsense.”
The UK joined the system in 2015. Both the EU and the UK have stated that cooperation in security matters is a major goal of the Brexit negotiations. The Schengen Information System is specifically mentioned as a key tool.
However use of the system requires that all countries abide by EU privacy laws and data protection as well as acceptance on European Court of Justice rulings. PM May has stated the UK is unwilling to do so.
According to spokespeople, UK officials access the highly sophisticated system “16 times per second.”
Pensioners Could Strain NHS
Currently almost 200,000 British pensioners are beneficiaries of a scheme that allows them to get care in EU countries.
That scheme is in jeopardy post-Brexit.
If these pensioners need to return to the UK for care it will cost the NHS an additional £1bn a year, roughly twice the amount currently spent as part of the reciprocal care agreement.
The authors of the report also state that the number of hospital beds will need to be increased. The number would be equivalent to two new hospitals.
The report also highlights the importance of EU migrant workers in the health and care services and notes that labour shortages are highly likely. (The TransferGo Blog noted the possibility of nursing shortages in a previous Brexit update.)
Irish Passport Applications Surge
The Irish government has stated that applications for Irish passports by British residents have increased by 70%.
Those who have an Irish parent or were born in Northern Ireland have an automatic right to Irish citizenship. Britons with an Irish grandparent, in some cases, also have the automatic right to an Irish passport.
Job Recruitment Problems
The British Property Federation has stated that the tens of thousands of jobs filled by migrants will not be easy to replace with British labour.
Both the Conservative and Labour manifestos called for dramatic increases in home building over the next decade. According to the BPF it would be necessary to recruit at least 400,000 workers a year to meet the goals.
Melanie Leech, BPF chief executive said “There are a huge number of workers coming from within and outside the EU currently and, if we’re going to have a really ambitious house-building programme and we’re going to build the business infrastructure we need for the 21st century, we have to make sure we can staff the construction industry.”