Published On: Tue, Sep 12th, 2017

Is Britain negotiating itself into a corner over Brexit?

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By Baria Alamuddin

Even during the bitterest of negotiations, it is usually expected that the opposing parties should incrementally move closer together. Yet in the Brexit talks, Britain and the EU seem to be edging further apart.

EU officials emerged from the latest round of negotiations deriding the British negotiation position as “nostalgic and unrealistic.” Chief negotiator Michel Barnier accused Britain of expecting to “enjoy the benefits of the single market and EU membership, without actually being part of it.”

This inflexible UK position is exemplified by the recent leaking of proposals for new tough restrictions on low-paid EU workers. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said this document “reads like a blueprint on how to strangle London’s economy… The British people did not vote to make our country and future generations poorer.” A new Expat Insider survey found that Britain’s reputation as a congenial place to work was plunging among European employees. Britain was rated as a less friendly and less politically stable place than just a year ago.

While many British voters are concerned about unrestricted access for EU workers, it is precisely this cheap labor that propels London’s economy. Without it, the business environment becomes stagnant, products and services become more expensive, and the authorities struggle to make amenities such as transport and health cost-effective. No wonder experts are deriding government proposals as “economically illiterate.”

Ministers have sought a three-year Brexit transition period to avoid the economy dropping off a “cliff edge;” yet if leaders insist on immediately imposing such draconian measures and halting Britain’s obligations under the European Court of Justice, it is unlikely that the EU will grant this window of opportunity.

With the government in thrall to its right-wing tabloid cheerleaders, it ignores the aspirations of those who voted against Brexit. This includes regions whose way of life would be immeasurably affected. For example, Northern Ireland’s peace process could be deeply undermined by Brexit. The government’s vision for an “invisible border” between Ireland’s north and south has been ridiculed as offering the worst of both worlds: Jeopardizing Ireland’s economic vitality, while allowing unchecked immigration through Britain’s back door. Brexit furthermore jeopardizes £200m of funding for Ireland under the EU peace program – illustrating how deprived areas stand to lose out from the halting of EU funding.

Britain’s opposition Labour Party appears to be moving toward supporting remaining in the EU single market, despite the Euroskeptic instincts of its leader Jeremy Corbyn. Labour, and even some Conservative MPs, have threatened to vote against an EU withdrawal bill in Parliament in the coming days if amendments are not introduced. Critics warn that these measures for converting EU legislation into British law give the government sweeping powers to introduce legal innovations without oversight.

There have been accusations that the government’s murky negotiating position seeks to “divide and conquer” EU member states by playing their disparate interests against each other. However, this tactic risks disrupting or derailing these ferociously complex negotiations, which are already compressed into an unrealistically tight timetable.

Nations such as France and Belgium could benefit if a hard Brexit (or no deal) leads to an exodus of businesses and banks into the European mainland. This gives the lie to grandstanding by British ministers that “no deal is better than a bad deal,” because some EU states hope to benefit if the Brexit talks go off the rails – if only as it would discourage other European political movements from pursuing their own EU exit strategies.

–(Courtesy–Arab News)


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