Momentous times. But you heard it here first: It is far from a given that the UK will end up leaving the European Union in my view. Or if it does what follows will not look so different.
Let me start with a note of comfort: In these times of uncertainty BritishAmerican Business, on behalf of an active engaged transatlantic business community, stands for a point of stability and opportunity based on the UK US economy, which even without a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) structure is currently worth 1 trillion dollars of two way fixed investment stock, 16 per cent of UK exports, and 1.2 million direct jobs. A point not just of huge stability but also new opportunity.
What this means to Trump’s chances of entering the White House, and whether the UK can construct itself as a competitive and productive economy with a predatory currency like a big Singapore offshore Europe, many have spent the weekend debating. With the latter idea I would just note that it only gets legs normally after at least three whiskies but I want to fix on more immediate matters in this commentary.
I think it is entirely possible that there is no real political majority in Parliament to trigger Article 50 which is the formal mechanism to exit. The UK Prime Minister David Cameron clearly indicated in Parliament that he wouldn’t be doing that today; it would be down to a successor to decide when and under what circumstances. Maybe it will never happen. The article is drafted in a way that makes it very difficult to leave, with a timed and pain-inducing mechanism which kicks in once triggered. No one will be in hurry to do that.
I could see a letter and negotiating team that specifically invites discussions about discussions expressly without prejudice to any form of formal exit negotiation. And despite initial rejections of approaches, I am sure a friendly interlocutor such as the US will be able to facilitate non-talks about pre-talks at some useful moment down the line. And to throw in a bit more populism as a negotiating tactic I can see mounting criticism towards European Commission President Juncker in his role as an appropriate interlocutor. He personifies the elite project version of Europe that ordinary people struggle with.
This sets up the potential for a general election well before 2020. I can see an election in the UK before the end of the year. An election can change everything. What it’s difficult to tell is how the pro-EU majority in Parliament configures itself vis a vis existing party lines to have impact. At least currently.
Some are talking about the UK opening its FTA path with third countries; but technically, they can only do so once the UK has formally left the EU. The idea that these FTAs could be negotiated in lock step with exit so that the day after, say a January 1st 2019 UK exit, they all come into force, does not work as some leave campaigners may wish to see it.
On the core questions of free movement of labour and people which drove the debate as one about migration, and as a side product has brought racism back to respectability in parts of hitherto ‘polite’ society, there is no answer as yet. But the longer the UK slows the clock, the more the chances that other countries populisms challenge the status quo, which is a fig leaf anyway. That issue seems to be the real test, certainly in the UK, and not Eurozone integration, which hardly figured as a people issue.
We will return to themes such as the role of the UK US economic relationship as part of the solution, to the question of where next for TTIP, and what issues will become more important for BAB, in the near future.