Brexit: Full Steam Ahead
The ‘Brexit Bill’ has now become the ‘Brexit Act’… Or to give it its full name the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act 2017. The bill received royal assent last week after making it unamended through both Houses of Parliament and its many committee and reading stages.
Theresa May intends to keep to her self-imposed deadline of triggering Article 50 by the end of March, but it will take a good few weeks before we see anything in the way of movement on the likely path negotiations will take. The UK finds itself at a political and constitutional crossroads, the Scottish National Party having spoiled the Brexit Act party by insisting a second independence referendum for Scotland should take place (and should even take place before the terms of Brexit are clear). The next two years could see the UK leave the European Union and Scotland leave the UK, only for the Scots to reapply for EU membership as an independent nation. Over the last few weeks of Parliamentary back-and-forth, MPs in the House of Commons and the unelected peers in the House of Lords have been determined not to be seen as “thwarting the will of the people” – ultimately the present Government (unelected and dealt a difficult hand) must capitalise on the apparent weakness of the opposition and press ahead into uncertain waters.
Much has been made of the potential financial settlement that the UK will need to meet as it leaves the Union – estimated figures range from zero to anything up to £70 billion. The longer-term economic impact for the UK hinges more on what trade access to the EU is negotiated (and approved not only by the EU but also by each individual Member States parliaments) – the ‘no deal’ divorce could see the UK falling back on World Trade Organisation rules and having to deal with potentially punitive tariffs and non-tariff barriers. That is to say nothing of the consequences of a return to a harder border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Whether it be foreign companies securing cheaper assets, financial institutions taking steps to restructure operations (we are still no closer to understanding Brexit’s impact on passporting rights, 9 months after the referendum), or domestic businesses simply going about their businesses, consumers and corporates have no choice but to plough on. While many across the UK have learned more about our unwritten constitutional patchwork in the last few months than they may have ever wished to, and the politics of the day may seem maddening, much long-term uncertainty remains. At least know the runners are on the blocks, waiting for Theresa May to fire the starting gun…