In a world full of chaos the only thing which is constant is change.
The European Referendum for the UK to remain or leave took place on 23rd June 2016. A majority of 52% voted for the UK as a whole to leave the European Union. It is fair to say there were divisions in the vote. Any referendum will cause such divisions. People will have different opinions and beliefs and their reasons are different based on the circumstances and their environment.
Where did the European Union go wrong?
Immigration has been a hot potato in the UK. There were also concerns on security issues and debates that the free movement does not allow removal of criminals from the country. During the general election the current Prime Minister of the UK promised referendum to leave or remain in the European Union. After failed negotiations a referendum was called. Some argue the European Union has been out of touch with what is happening in member states. The union needs a greater involvement and listen to the concerns raised by member states to remain a united front. Confidence building can take time but mutual respect and tolerance from both the sides should be the motive and arbitrary or dictatorial rules by either side do not work in a united setup.
So what happens next?
Europe is a continent and Britain will always be part of the Europe due to its geographical location irrespective of it being in or out of the European Union or any such special arrangement with other countries etc.
Process of leaving European Union:
In order for Britain to leave the European Union it simply needs to repeal 1972 European Communities Act. However, in order to negotiate and compel European Union to negotiate, Britain needs to trigger the process of Article 50. The European Union has made it clear that it will only start negotiations when Article 50 is triggered. Therefore, the UK cannot use the Article 50 just to negotiate and not leave the European Union. In order to negotiate the UK needs to trigger Article 50 to leave the European Union.
Trade agreements and single market – what options are there?
The main concerns of Britain leaving the European Union is what happens to the trade agreements with other countries.
The benefits of being in the European Union is that the British firms who export to the European Union do so currently without paying any taxes on goods and without any other barriers in trade and the firms based in the countries which are members of the European Union have the same rights when doing business in the UK. In a nutshell, it helps firms to avoid paying taxes and this as a result helps in keeping price down for goods and services which are imported from European Union. However, there are more difficulties in trading with non-EU countries when the UK is part of the European Union whether it is quotas or various restrictions on kind of goods which can be imported from non-EU countries.
Post EU referendum, the UK needs to make decision in terms of its future relationship with EU.
If the UK wants to be in the single market then it will have to agree for free movement of not only goods but people as well. Norway has similar arrangement. Switzerland is another country which is not part of the European Union but part of the single market. While a referendum in Switzerland voted to implement immigration quotas or cap but this approach was rejected by the European Union. This means the UK cannot control immigration from the European Union, until and unless the UK clinches a deal where the negotiations will allow it to be part of the single market but still control immigration in the country, which may be highly unlikely given the current trend.
Instead of being a member of the single market the UK can trade in a single market. Countries can sell in the single market without being part of it, like the U.S does, but that may mean application of taxes and quotas to limit import.
The best option for the UK would be to join the free trade area of the European Union. A number of other countries outside Europe like Ukraine and Turkey have similar arrangements. A unilateral free trade approach may be another option.
There is further opportunity to form trading relations with other countries such as U.S, Canada, India, China etc. The UK already exports on a large scale to countries that are not part of the European Union for e.g. United States, China, and Switzerland.
What will Brexit mean for migration in Britain?
Those who were leading the campaign to leave the European Union e.g. Boris Johnson and Michael Gove suggested that a Points Based System will be applied for all migrants including those coming from the European Union. They also suggested that this will ensure migrants are treated non-discriminatorily and not on the basis of from which country they come. The immigration rules does not require European Union migrants a visa to enter the UK but the same approach currently does not exist for migrants coming from non-European countries.
There is a preferential treatment of immigrants based on where they are coming from. While migrants coming from for e.g. India or Pakistan needs to go through a rigid points based system and a British national needs to prove a minimum income threshold of earnings (£18,600) to bring spouse from a non-EU country but a EU national need not go through a similar sort of stricter visa criteria to bring their non-EU relatives (partner, mother, father, uncle, aunt, brothers and sisters). Rules should be universally applied irrespective of where they come from. Imagine you apply for a job and the company says they only prefer nationals of a certain country. The differential treatment of non-EU migrants compared to EU migrants is discriminatory. It does not become morally or ethically right or legitimate because it is within the immigration / EU rules. Therefore, a country’s immigration rules should ideally ensure all are treated equally irrespective of whether they come from Europe or Asia and Africa and should be reasonable for all.
Author – Amit Kapadia
Amit is the Executive Director of the HSMP Forum. He campaigns against issues such as – unfairness, inequality and abuse of human rights.
Twitter @ amit_kapadia