UK divorces EU: what next? by Ansar Mahmood Bhatti

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In an unprecedented move witnessed in the history of the European Union, the UK has voted by 52% to 48% to leave the European Union after 43 years in an historic referendum. London and Scotland voted strongly to stay in the EU however the rest of the regions decided to finally divorce the EU. The low turnout was witnessed in those areas where campaigners for No vote succeeded. The decision thus dealt a severe blow to the EU project as a whole. The British prime minister had to call it a day as he had no locus standi to remain glued to the power after a defeat in the referendum. The vote jolted financial markets the world, sending the U.K. currency tumbling to its lowest level since 1985.
Britain would be the first country to leave the EU since its formation – but a leave vote does not imply that Britain ceases to be a member of the 28-nation bloc immmediately. The process could take a minimum of two years, with Leave campaigners suggesting during the referendum campaign that it should not be completed until 2020 – the date of the next scheduled general election.

The new British prime minister will have to decide when to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which would give the UK two years to negotiate its withdrawal. Once Article 50 has been invoked a country cannot rejoin without the consent of all member states. Mr Cameron has previously said he would trigger Article 50 as soon as possible after a leave vote but Boris Johnson and Michael Gove who led the campaign to get Britain out of the EU have said that he should not rush into it. Now Mr. Cameron has left to his successor to choose the date to invoke Article 50, Boris Johnson in that case because he stands more chances of becoming the next British prime minister.
Article 50 sets out the rules, processes and deadlines that would govern an exit from the EU and is the only legal way to leave the union, although it is completed untested since it has never been used before. A country wishing to withdraw must enter into negotiations with other member states about the terms and mechanics of its departure. This can take up to two years, with the possibility of an extension. The said article was incorporated in the Lisbon Treaty for the first time on the request of Britain in 2007.

It may be noted that despite the No vote, some things would continue as normal during the negotiation period. EU laws would still apply to the UK and British ministers would continue to participate in most EU business. However, the UK “would not participate in internal EU discussions or decisions on its own withdrawal”. The desperate EU leaders such as Germany’s Angela Merkel and European Commission chief Mr. Junker have called upon David Cameron to immediately start the exit negotiations as any further delay would keep the EU in limbo.

While the Britain’s exit is being termed as a blow to EU project, at the same time there is no dearth of people who think the decision might trigger British disintegration also. Scotland that overwhelmingly voted to remain part of European Union, has hinted at another referendum for independence. In a previous bid the Scottish people rejected the independence referendum in 2014 by 55-45 per cent. But Scotland voted 62-38 per cent to stay in the EU. Also over one million Brits have signed a petition on parliament’s website calling for a second EU referendum because fewer than 60 per cent of voters had backed “Leave” on a turnout of under 75 per cent.

The British vote appears to have triggered a debate that what may now be the future of the European Union? Some have even termed it as a ‘sinking Titanic”. A small number of people in Slovakia have asked their government to hold UK-like referendum in Slovakia also. Nevertheless, no other defection is in sight at the moment. UK’s case was different in the sense that it has never been an integral part of EU. As pointed out in my last month’s editorial on the same subject, despite huge criticism from the member states, it was still out of the single currency “euro” and Schengen visa regime. Citing these as a basis, some member states argued, it will make little difference when UK pulls out of the EU.

There seem to be two predominant reasons of UK’s pulling out of the EU, first, Brits never liked the idea of giving so much powers to Brussels who viewed that EU had become a super state; secondly the impact of the influx of immigrants from other EU members states to UK. Even UK citizens of Pakistani origin were quite disturbed as workforce coming especially from the Eastern European countries had taken away most of the jobs because they were willing to work even against low wages. The EU leaders, and particularly the six founding members will have to share the onus of UK’s exit for having failed to seriously convince UK to be an integral part of the EU systems i.e euro and Schengen visa regime.

The EU leaders would never admit it, but the fact remains that the lives of Europeans have become difficult after the introduction of single currency euro. Prices of daily use items have gone high despite the fact that the income resource of people remained the same. The EU wanted to be an economic power on the world stage which to some extent it may have achieved this end, however this exercise probably made the lives of its citizens more difficult, if not miserable. Countries that are still out of euro have performed comparatively better over the years.

Summing up, John Keryy seemed quite disappointed during a press conference on June 27 along with the British Foreign Secretary saying it would of course be painful when Britain will not be sitting on the negotiating table when US will meet the EU leaders. US, as pointed out in the last month’s editorial, never wanted the UK out of EU as it was considered America’s Trojan Horse within the 28-member bloc. This luxury nevertheless will no longer be available to the United States.