Brexit Will Bring Changes, but How Much Change Is Not Clear

July 4, 2016 Updated: July 5, 2016

Post referendum tristesse?

Can we take a “mulligan” and have a do over? Or just “reset”?

Can an egg be unscrambled? Well, at least the chief egg scrambler (Boris Johnson) is out of the kitchen, which may reduce some of the anticipated angst and animus among Europeans should they be forced to address the thousands of devilish details involved in formally separating the U.K. from the EU. Johnson (reluctantly) follows Prime Minister Cameron out of politics.

With both Johnson and Cameron on the sidelines, the stage is cleared for new British leadership and perhaps greater flexibility in thinking regarding U.K. and EU relations.

Brexit campaigner and former London mayor Boris Johnson waves after addressing a press conference in central London on June 30, 2016. (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)
Brexit campaigner and former London Mayor Boris Johnson waves after addressing a press conference in central London on June 30, 2016. (Leon Neal/AFP/Getty Images)

Less than two weeks after the unprecedented and unexpected Brexit vote, the chattering class, media, and Eurocrat bureaucracy are still highly irritated that the unwashed masses didn’t follow their leadership and vote “Remain.”

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There seems to be a tendency to “throw baby out with bath water” so far as the next stage of relations with the U.K. is concerned. Thus the rather snarky comment by a senior EU bureaucrat that once the U.K. was out of the system, English wouldn’t be an official EU language. OK, but if anyone thinks that the second-largest economy in Europe will start speaking, say French, to sell its exports, they are dreaming in Eurocolor.

In the same vein, Brits seem to believe that, so far as Europe is concerned, they can have a divorce but retain bedroom privileges. That is, nothing regarding trade, investment, travel/residency, and finances will change except that the U.K. can divest itself of the egregious, vastly overpriced Brussels bureaucracy and be subject only to laws and regulations designed/implemented by Brits. These sanguine souls are dreaming in Anglocolor.

But that “things will change” is obvious; what is less obvious is what will change and how and when change will be instituted.

That ‘things will change’ is obvious; what is less obvious is what will change and how and when change will be instituted.

To begin, there is argument over just when the U.K. will pull the plug by invoking Article 50 of the EU constitution to start a two-year process for formal withdrawal. The Brits say it will not be done until there is a new prime minister, currently scheduled for September. EUrocrats want it to start immediately.

But what ultimately will be done when it starts (still assuming that it really will start)?

Perhaps the most proximate example is that of Norway, which is outside the EU but accepts a substantial number of the rules and regulations (and commensurate payments) that the EU requires. It also accepts the requirement for free movement of labor. In referendums, however, Norway twice rejected officially joining the EU; there is no expectation there will be another referendum on the issue.

While one could conceive of the U.K. adhering to selected EU regulations (once Parliament ratifies them) and making specifically defined financial contributions associated with their implementation, the requirement for free movement of labor appears to be a deal-breaker.

EU members say, in effect, free movement of goods and free movement of labor are inextricably connected. The Brexit decision to leave had concerns over immigration and potentially being swamped by those coming from elsewhere as a key element in the decision.

As long as Europe continues to flail in its approach to the swarms of refugees attempting to enter (and the concurrent fear of terrorism associated with immigrants as epitomized by attacks in Paris and Brussels), the British are unlikely to change their hostility to free flow of labor. Or their skepticism toward immigration in general.

But the inability to reach a comprehensive new U.K.–EU agreement hardly means catastrophe. The U.K.’s economy is second only to Germany; its military strength is first in Europe; its political/diplomatic authority is buttressed by centuries of adroit activity throughout Europe and globally.

If the U.K. doesn’t have a seat at the EU table (or representatives in the European Parliament in Strasburg), it doesn’t mean that its voice and preferences will go unheard, either indirectly through demarches in European capitals or quiet surrogates within the EU. And, of course, its presence in international organizations such as the U.N. Security Council, NATO, Commonwealth, and so on, reflects these realities.

Moreover, there remains the potential for specific trade agreements with individual states, not to mention a bilateral trade agreement with the United States.

Doubtless, the “experts” are correct when predicting there will be economic costs associated with Brexit. But the choice for national self-determination overrode these concerns—and the U.K. decision may well foreshadow comparable “exits” by other EU members.

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David T. Jones

David T. Jones is a retired U.S. State Department senior foreign service career officer who has published several hundred books, articles, columns, and reviews on U.S.–Canadian bilateral issues and general foreign policy. During a career that spanned over 30 years, he concentrated on politico-military issues, serving as adviser for two Army chiefs of staff. Among his books is “Alternative North Americas: What Canada and the United States Can Learn From Each Other.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.