By Wang Peng Source: CGTN Published: 2019-3-25
With only days left until the scheduled Brexit date, how the UK is going to exit the EU is still mired in a fog of uncertainty.
The Brexit process is seen as a total "mess" in many people's words. Some have blamed Theresa May and her poor negotiating strategy for the current impasse in Brexit, and some blame the EU. What has caused this Brexit chaos?
There is one popular explanation that Theresa May, the UK's Prime Minister, as a "talented" organizer, has successfully "brought the country together" by uniting nearly all political factions and voter groups standing at her opposite side, even including a long name list of her former supporters and ministers. Why?
As May herself has admitted, the most controversial part of the Withdrawal Agreement lies on the issue of Northern Ireland (Britain)'s border with the Republic of Ireland. Whether this border will remain open after Brexit is a question.
After Brexit, the border between UK's Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland will no longer an intra-EU border as at present, but instead an international border.
The UK and European countries then cannot apply the trade agreement within the EU framework, but be obliged to utilize "Most Favoured Nation" (MFN) rules of the WTO on that border.
In that case, border regulations and tariffs will be both highly politically sensitive and economically inefficient. What is even worse, considering the long bloody history of conflicts and war between English Anglican conformists and devout Irish Catholics along the border in the past hundreds of years, people now from both countries, as well as the EU, have ample reasons to worry about their security and economic opportunities in the future.
Therefore, it is easy to understand the public opinion of both UK and Europe: people do not want a "hard border" between the two "countries" since they have already enjoyed the convenience and privilege of living within one "state." However, according to May's deal, this may be just a dream. Preventing the "hard divorce" and the consequent "hard border" have been proved difficult.
Although the May Administration claims that they have tried many approaches and technological solutions to eliminate the emerging border checks and hence minimize the local dwellers' inconvenience of both sides. However, neither the EU (including Irish people) nor the UK citizens living in North Ireland trust this statement.
Theoretically speaking, now there is a temporary arrangement proposed the EU that may contribute to keeping Northern Ireland in the Customs Union and Single Market until a new free trade agreement be negotiated (if any).
However, this technical solution may also cause new legal problems within the border of the UK. If the UK government accept this proposal and simplify the procedure of custom checks on goods that transited between Northern Ireland and other parts of the UK, this solution may undermine the internal market of the UK itself.
So, that is why there is increasing criticism of May's deal. As the spokesman a major local political force, Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), criticized, May Administration has to prepare some "backstop". But now it is obvious that there is no possible "backstop" on May's hand.
Looking ahead, the British, Europeans and the international society, are all anxious about the future relationship this bitterly divorced "couple". Their future relationship is substantially based on a nuancedly managed the balance between rights and obligations.
This balance is hard to obtain and maintain both. Because on the one hand, it must ensure the autonomy of the EU's decision making and be consistent with the Union's principles, especially with respect to the integrity of the "Single Market", as well as the indivisibility of the four freedoms – namely, goods, capital, services, and labor.
While on the other hand, this balance must also ensure the sovereignty of the UK, especially the protection of its internal market. It must respect the result of the 2016 referendum, in particular regarding the development of its independent trade policy and the ending of free movement of people between the EU and the UK.
In conclusion, May's Administration undoubtedly has to take responsibility for the failure of "Brexit." But in essence, the decision of "divorce" is substantially an immature idea and irresponsible response to external challenges. The predecessor of May who chose the wrong approach – a referendum – to tackle this vital issue has actually lost his responsibility to the people and history.
Now it is up to the following prime minister to swallow the bitter pill, with even less effective means and domestic support.
Wang Peng is an associate research fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies, Renmin University of China.