OP-ED: Article 50, Now What?

(Photo: Francois Lenoir/Reuters)

               As many readers of this column have probably guessed by now, I really like talking about the latest goings on in Washington. I’m serious. It consumes about 90 percent of my waking life, and even sneaks into my dreams every now and again.  But, as both the House Intelligence Committee investigation and the Supreme Court nomination battle descend into nauseatingly partisan bickering, I just cannot bring myself to do it this week.  Instead, dear readers, why don’t we take a nice, relaxing trip across the Atlantic to a quaint little island with a legislature that actually, you know, legislates and they definitely don’t have any prob-

               Wait, what’s that? Theresa May finally put her money where her mouth is and delivered the Article 50 papers to Brussels? Holy crap, those crazy Nigels are actually doing it.  Well, there goes my dream of writing about something that doesn’t fill me with a deep sense of frustration and despair.  All right folks, here it is – my completely unsolicited and barely qualified thoughts on Brexit.

               First off, let’s make one thing absolutely clear. If I were a Briton, I probably would have voted Remain, though that’s kind of a trite position for me to take, sitting half a continent and an entire ocean removed from the situation.  Now, that being said, can we really blame the people who voted Leave for wanting to get the hell out? 

               Just look at the current state of the European Union.  On the one hand, you’ve got major social unrest in Germany, France, and other countries impacted by the migrant crisis, which has caused the long-dormant dragon of far-right reactionism, not seen in Europe since the end of World War II, to stir from its slumber.  On the other, financial uncertainty in the Eurozone makes remaining as a part of the larger trading bloc a dicey proposition; although Spain and Ireland appear to be finally turning the corner from their respective debt crises, a second Greek default seems likely and Italy is by all accounts a ticking time-bomb of toxic debt.

               Oh, and let’s not forget the structure of the EU itself, with its byzantine rules created, for the most part, by unelected bureaucrats and obscure legislators you’ve never heard of; rules, designed to protect the interests of export-oriented members, which are less than ideal for the increasingly import-focused UK.  Take oranges as an example.  Last year, the EU Customs Union increased the tariffs on oranges imported from outside Europe to 16 percent in an attempt to buoy the profits of Spanish growers against competition from South Africa, without consulting anyone or giving significant notice of the change.  Now, it should go without saying that this change hurts consumers in the UK, where they can grow no oranges and have to rely on imports to feed their citrus-y urges.  (Much like retirees from the Northeast, oranges seem to prefer warmer, brighter climates.) 

               Leaving the Common Market behind would allow Britain to set its own trade policies for the benefit of its own consumers, without having to worry about the effect that might have on producers a thousand miles away.  However, being free to set an independent trade policy cuts both ways.  By exiting the Union, the UK may find itself with a severely diminished bargaining position in trade negotiations.  Already, rising trade powers like Indonesia have indicated that they will expect more concessions from Britain than when it was part of the Common Market. 

               Trade is not the only area where Britons may lose out from Brexit.  Under the EU treaties, all citizens of member states enjoy unrestricted movement within the Union, which has allowed for the one of the most mobile workforces in history, less complicated vacations, and more cooperative science research.  There are also there are also matters of security, defense, pension funding, and relocation of EU agencies headquartered in the UK which will all have to be negotiated under a relatively short timeframe.

               In the end, however, complaining too much is like crying over spilled milk.  The British people made their decision back in June, and now that the initial paperwork has been filed, there is no going back.

Ford Mulligan Staff Reporter