Postpone or abandon Brexit? The choice is yours, Prime Minister

In 2016, Boris Johnson, the UK's now former Foreign Secretary and a leading player in the Brexit campaign, toured the country in a red bus and promised that the UK's contributions to the European budget, to the tune of £350 million per week, would go to the National Health Service. The people were promised a better future. They dreamed of a Brexit that would give the United Kingdom back control over its borders and laws, with the exact same benefits as membership of the European Union.

Written by Pieter Timmermans, GENERAL MANAGEMENT
Written on 16 January 2019

This dream has become a nightmare
Around two and a half years on from the referendum, we now know that the Brexit vote has seriously damaged the British economy. Ironically enough, according to the Centre for European Reform such damage is costing the country around £440 million a week, much more than any of the UK's weekly contributions to the EU budget. The social carnage cannot be ignored either, according to the University of Sussex: no fewer than 400,000 to 750,000 jobs are at risk. This uncertainty is also weighing on British investments. Greg Clark, the UK's Secretary of State for Business, raised the alarm last week because businesses are spending hundreds of millions of pounds on protecting themselves against Brexit, rather than making productive investments.

That MPs would vote down Theresa May's deal was written in the stars. The country was completely divided from the start of negotiations and there was no single vision regarding the UK's future relationship with the EU, so it was incomprehensible that Article 50 was triggered without the government having reached any agreement. The consequences of this are well known: one minister after another threw in the towel and MPs wrestled with the government. During a final rescue attempt to drum up sufficient support for her deal, Theresa May asked for, and received, a number of additional clarifications from the EU. Renegotiation was no longer an option. The EU is rightly sticking to its principles.

A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, of the next generation
The negative vote is a blow to Prime Minister May and further undermines her precarious authority. She can now opt for a 'no-deal Brexit' and accept the inevitable damage. This would be an economic and political disaster and is therefore not a logical choice.

She still has one viable alternative that would allow her to put an end to the Brexit chaos and limit the damage. Theresa May will have to make a bold political move: reason with the people, who voted with their hearts, and explain that the promises made during the referendum cannot be completely fulfilled. May can then pick one of two routes.

Either she will be able to buy some extra time by requesting an extension of negotiations, pressing pause on Brexit. This is perfectly possible under the EU Treaty, though it requires the unanimous approval of the EU Member States. There is no doubt that May would be granted this extra time. After all, which Member State would rather have a 'cliff-edge Brexit' or be blamed for a no deal? May can then use this time to finally get MPs on the same page and get her deal through Parliament, in one way or another. This would result in an orderly Brexit, though not one that the British voted for or dreamed of. May could also use this time to organise a second referendum or opt for a new model, such as joining the European Economic Area like Norway.

Or she can seek refuge with the European Court of Justice. The judges in Luxembourg have stated that the UK can unilaterally revoke Article 50, meaning that May could reverse the whole Brexit saga and the UK would remain within the EU where it belongs. Because let's be honest: the British economy will be under considerable pressure regardless of the form Brexit takes, shrinking 3.9% under the current Brexit plan and 9.3% in the event of a no-deal Brexit. These official figures from the British government do not lie, and confirm that ‘no Brexit’ is by far the best option.

Both options ensure that the Brexit crisis does not result in a disastrous, irresponsible no-deal scenario, where the UK leaves the EU without a divorce agreement, a transition period or sight of a sustainable future relationship with the EU, which would be particularly detrimental to our Belgian companies. Our priority is therefore clear. Avoiding this scenario is the only thing for which there is a democratic majority in the House of Commons.

The saying 'A statesman thinks of the next generation' is therefore crucial. Will the real statesman or woman please stand up?


Our partners

Business Issues

An optimum business environment is vital for a sound economy and sustainable growth. FEB aims to help create and maintain such an environment by, among other things, closely monitoring all issues of direct relevance to businesses. Here, grouped into 17 themes, are the issues on which FEB focuses most of its attention and action.

Subscribe to newsletter

Subscribe now and receive every week the latest articles directly in your mailbox