Deal or Dilemma: Looking at the Brexit Deal
Megan Ballantyne examines the consequences of Brexit for Britain.
On Christmas Eve, only a week before the end of the Brexit ‘transition’ period, the UK agreed on a deal regarding its future relationship with the EU. Since Boris Johnson refused to rule out the possibility of a no-deal Brexit throughout last year, an outcome which would likely have led to economic decline and extensive tariffs placed on UK traders, the presence of any deal has come as a relief to many within the British public. The deal is a mixed success. It presents a fixed set of rules for how the UK will separate its economic and legal ties from the EU, yet contains too much ambiguity to give the British public a clear vision of post-Brexit Britain.
The most immediate consequences of the new deal on British trade are administrative, with additional paperwork, fees and lengthier customs checks for transportation of goods to and from the EU. The chaos seen with lorries in Kent around Christmas Day is unlikely to recur, but will instead be replaced by vehicles being delayed in transit depots, with couriers continuing to be under-informed and confused as to the paperwork they need to complete. The UK will not have quotas or trading tariffs placed on its yearly exchange of £668 billion worth of goods with EU nations, however this is reliant on the UK maintaining policies which are in line with those of the EU, regarding issues such as workers’ rights and the environment.
In effect, this leaves the future of the UK’s trade relationship with the EU open ended; if the UK strays further from EU conventions, these tariffs could well be reinstated in future, meaning that this will remain a battleground in UK politics over the coming years – with 49% of UK trade coming from EU nations, tariffs could have a catastrophic effect on the UK economy when compounded with the dips already experienced due to Covid-19 measures.
The desire for stronger immigration measures of the early Brexit campaign have come to fruition, with a points-based system based on the models of Canada and Australia. This system presents an evaluative approach to immigration, with those looking to enter high income jobs, or sectors where there are shortages prioritised, to bring more skilled labour into the UK. While this is potentially beneficial to the UK economy, the flip-side is that EU citizens currently living in the UK need to jump through bureaucratic hoops to continue to do so, and Brits’ own opportunities to live and work abroad are restricted.
EU citizens who are currently residing in the UK need to apply for settled or pre-settled status from the Home Office by 30 June to maintain their rights, (including those of work and healthcare) in a process currently being presented by the government as optional, but which could lead to some of the three million EU citizens in the UK inadvertently losing out on permanent residence here. UK citizens who wish to live abroad lose the automatic right to live and work in the EU, and they are excluded from the Erasmus scheme (despite Boris Johnson previously promising otherwise), which offers European work placements and study abroad opportunities; the alternative scheme which the government establishes may well be costly and less comprehensive. The lack of clear communication from the government regarding new immigration measures is concerning, casting doubt on its capability to effectively fulfil the Brexit deal.
Against the hopes of Brexiteers, the UK will inevitably continue to be defined by its relationship with the EU for many years to come.
The issue of the Northern Irish border, discussed at length during the Brexit negotiations, has been addressed in the establishment of a sea border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, with Northern Ireland also remaining in the single market. These measures are intended to prevent the internal Irish border from becoming a site of reignited conflict in the near future.
Irish and UK nationals will also continue to have free movement to live and work in both the Republic of Ireland and the UK. While the establishment of this sea border presents logistical challenges, the future of UK-Irish relations seems more hopeful than earlier this year, when the EU stood firm on the issue of the Irish backstop.
But political discontent in Scotland might be closer on the horizon than in Ireland under the new deal. The Scottish people, most of whom voted to leave the EU, may see independence as a route to rejoining the EU. With Keir Starmer now encouraging support of this Brexit deal, the SNP will continue to garner support from Remain voters, especially with Scottish MPs already claiming Scotland has been undermined in the fishing deal. Another Scottish referendum resulting from anti-Brexit sentiments could reignite national tensions and economic uncertainty at a time when the UK is already in a state of economic and political limbo.
The fact that the deal has not caused a huge media outcry shows that it has managed to avoid polarisation of the levels seen throughout the UK during the lead up to the Brexit referendum. It is also purposefully vague, deferring responsibility to future governments to decide how close the UK-EU relationship is to be.
As a result, the British public is likely to continue to be haunted by Brexit discussions for the forseeable future; though we might have expected a Brexit deal to be one of the last steps in our transition out of the EU, there will continue to be negotiation throughout the implementation of the extensive new measures. The necessity of these continued negotiations means that, against the hopes of Brexiteers, the UK will inevitably continue to be defined by its relationship with the EU for many years to come.