Brexit is the main issue of the election campaign, but those who believe the Prime Minister’s slogan that the can “get Brexit done” are deluding themselves.
There is no such thing as getting Brexit “done.” Brexit only begins once the UK leaves the European Union (the departure is currently scheduled for January 31, 2020, having been postponed twice from March 29 and October 31, 2019).
After the UK leaves, even if it does so under the terms of the current withdrawal agreement, this will only run for a while.
The withdrawal agreement deadline could of course be extended, as it has already happened with the departure deadline, but this would possibly be trickier to do because the European Commission has a new componence and the European Parliament is more assertive.
Plus, the continental politicians have had three years to prepare for a post-UK EU, whereas those in the UK have been busy campaigning in no less than three elections with inconclusive results.
Years of negotiations are likely to follow, during which every important aspect of the UK’s relationship with the European Union will be dissected by negotiators and then taken back to the respective national parliaments, where it will probably be used as a bargaining chip for various other deals that the countries would like to extract from each other.
In this time, the UK economy will be marred by uncertainty, and weakened by the sudden lack of international trade opportunities. Moreover, as curtailing freedom of movement cuts both ways, British people seeking to work in the EU will find it much more difficult than currently.
This will hurt not just industries such as the car industry – where we have already seen signs that factories are moving production to the European continent – but more importantly financial services, the crown jewel of the UK economy.
The fact that the City has not lost as many jobs as predicted before the referendum is due to the fact that, for the moment, contingency plans are in place to mitigate the effect on Brexit on London as a financial centre.
However, going forward it is not clear that London will be able to maintain this spot. The EU will insist on bringing more and more financial operations under the supervision of its own prudential institutions, so London will have a choice of either following EU rules (in which case, why leave the bloc in the first place), or breaking free, but giving up on lucrative business opportunities.
The moment when Britain leaves the EU will not be when Brexit “gets done”, it will only be the beginning of the process. It will take a determined, united and very competent government to achieve the best negotiation results with the EU, and even then, the relationship will be less lucrative for the UK than it is now.
Even a clear majority for the Conservatives would not achieve a good outcome for the UK. The party itself is divided on the issue of Brexit, with moderates becoming more vocal as they realise that leaving without a deal would crash the UK economy, taking the Tory party with it.
And despite various publications predicting a “landslide” victory for the Tories thanks to the help of Nigel Farage’s newly created Brexit party, a landslide victory for the Tories is far from guaranteed.
A possible outcome of the elections is another hung parliament. Depending on which party can get together a coalition, Brexit could still be reversed. Under the current circumstances, a hung parliament could turn out to be the best, rather than the worst, outcome of a UK election.