I had intended to take stock of Brexit in this month’s column but I am not sure that anything much has actually changed since I last gazed at the crystal ball in issue 71. Granted, we have learned some more new words, such as Second Regretferendum, Brextra Time, Brextension, and Flextension. The political dialogue has become more acrimonious, with Remainers morphing from Remoaners to Remaniacs and Brexiteers to Brextremists in their opponents’ view, and everybody who dares to disagree with another’s own view now being accused of treason. But let’s start by looking on the bright side: 29 March has come and gone, and as of the early morning of 11 April, the UK is still a member of the EU; I suppose it is helpful to know that with less than 48 hours to spare before a threatened no-deal exit. Ironically, we owe this good news to the ERG grouping of Conservative politicians and their rejection of the Brexit deal; thank you, guys.
TEXT BY GREGOR KLEINKNECHT | PHOTO © PEXELS.COM
A new Brexit deadline has now been set for 31 October with the option for the UK to leave earlier if it can get its act together. The EU heads of government clearly have kept a sense of humour, choosing Halloween as the new Brexit date. Maybe Brexoween will now become the latest addition to the dictionary. Trick or treat?
A further delay to Brexit is not in itself a solution. Neither for the EU, nor for the UK. Yes, it avoids the cliff edge for now, which is a good thing. This is the treat bit. But, from the EU’s perspective, a salami slicing approach to repeated extensions without clear objective or plan, risks paralysing EU institutions, dragging the EU into the Brexit political chaos, and simply extending the uncertainty. In the next few months, the EU has to hold European parliamentary elections, choose a new president of the European Commission, pass a new budget, and has much other important business to get on with, as the current EU-China summit demonstrates.
On the other side of the Channel, the UK will be ill-served by a blinkered prime minister still trying to drag a horse across the line that has long since been flogged to death by three votes in parliament (at the risk of mixing up my metaphors rather badly here). Delay simply risks prolonging the uncertainty here, too, without necessarily bringing the country any closer to a solution. It is far from inconceivable that the UK will find itself back in the same place again by 31 October and further extensions are already being mooted. In the meantime, fairly little will happen to resolve national issues such as the state of education and the health service, knife crime, housing shortages, and yet further declines in productivity (none of which are, incidentally, anything the EU can be blamed for). This is the trick bit.
Is there a plan? For now, the discussions between the government and Labour opposition are still ongoing, allegedly constructively and in good faith; let’s hope that they manage to create political consensus, drag the discussion back to a more moderate centre ground, and produce as close a future relationship with the EU as possible. But in a sense, the focus on the future relationship between the UK and EU misses the point that what is needed at this stage is approval of the Brexit deal which the EU has said it will not re-open. Anything else comes later.
A practical implication of the further delay will be that the UK now has to schedule European elections for May. It will be interesting to see what manifestos the two main parties will manage to adopt, but I am half minded to stand as an independent candidate to see whether common sense and pragmatism still have a chance. Importantly, the further delay also prolongs the uncertainty for businesses, who are still none the wiser about the rules under which they will be importing and exporting goods and services in six months’ time, and will in case of doubt defer investment in the future yet further. As Donald Tusk rightly warned us: “Please do not waste this time”.
Gregor Kleinknecht LLM MCIArb is a German Rechtsanwalt and English solicitor, and a partner at Hunters, a leading law firm in Central London.
Hunters Law LLP, 9 New Square, Lincoln’s Inn, London WC2A 3QN
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Discover Germany Magazine.’