Why Brexit will not happen

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

Nigel Farage [European Parliament]

MEP Sorin Moisa argues that the “Big Lie” promoted by the Leave campaign will be exposed before Britain can actually leave the EU, and that a second referendum will reject Brexit.

Sorin Moisa (Partidul Social Democrat) is a Romanian MEP, Member of the S&D group. 

The populist motives of Leave leaders will backfire on them. The ultimate revenge of reality will be to have a Prime Minister Johnson go back to London and read from the draft Exit Treaty the details of how he ‘recovered’ British sovereignty from the Brussels bureaucrats by actually giving them the power to dictate Britain’s regulations without any British input.

The various components of the “Big Lie” will unfold and parade in slow motion before the eyes of the British people, as the economic and institutional consequences of their vote will become known in the months to come.

Firstly, the effective strategic lies in the campaign, such as money being diverted back from Brussels straight into the NHS, or the possibility of stopping migration, both exploiting the anxieties of old and/or vulnerable people, are already being exposed.

Secondly, the economic consequences of Brexit have begun to show, some immediately and abruptly, others will follow more slowly but surely. Divestment is likely by companies which want to continue having guaranteed access to the full EU market. The UK was a great home for them, but the EU market is their ultimate purpose.

Thirdly, there is the obvious risk of breaking up the Union, with Scotland pushing for independence.

Fourthly, and most importantly in terms of the Brexit campaign propaganda, how will the ‘independent UK’ be able to enjoy its new sovereign powers while remaining an open economy?  Not even the Leave campaign has suggested that the non-EU UK could be prosperous by severing its economic ties with Europe: on the contrary, they would be maintained, but on sovereign British terms. How then does newly independent Britain actually ‘take back control’ from Brussels? There is no logical way around this: if the UK wants to continue having access to the EU’s internal market, it will have to accept the rules of that market, designed by EU-27, aka as… ‘Brussels’.

This is separate from the idea of preferential market access: it is about the rules that UK products and services have to respect in order to be sold in Europe. These rules, and the institutional arrangements put in place to guarantee that there’s no cheating about them, form the bulk of EU legislation: this was the very enemy of the Leave campaign. In other words, the Brussels devil is back with a vengeance, imposing itself on the UK as a pure outside force, once the UK is out of its inner workings. The UK will learn the hard way what Norway – among others – know all too well: that in the EU, it was part of decision-making, while outside it will be forced to operate on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis for decisions taken fully and exclusively by its former partners. Gone is the possibility to systematically influence, shape or veto Brussels legislation.

The core debate about free trade nowadays is essentially about who creates the rules of the future global economic system. New generation free trade agreements (FTAs) are more about rules than tariffs. This is one of the strongest arguments for the TTIP: will we have a more or less Western type of standards underlying the mega-trends of trade, or not? The size of your own market is a crucial factor in that game. By decoupling itself from the biggest market of the planet, the UK will have chosen to limit its own relevance, will have chosen to be a rule-taker rather than a rule-maker, in Europe and globally.

Global regimes to manage globalisation cannot be created by small players: there is no such thing as ‘taking back control’ in an extremely interconnected world, by an open economy: denying that is denying gravity. The Leave campaign missed a simple point: as EU member, the UK has some sovereign powers over Germany, France, Poland and so on. It’s not ‘them and us’, it’s all pooled and projected globally by the ensuing top global player, i.e. the EU, for all its desperate imperfections. After Brexit the UK will no longer benefit from existing EU FTAs, but will have to negotiate new ones from scratch relying on much less leverage than the EU has.

Finally, the EU will be forced to only accept exit arrangements that will reflect the new power and economic rapports between EU-27 and the UK. Even preferential treatment on its market is not guaranteed for sectors such as agriculture or services. This is not about being mean to the UK, which will forever be a privileged partner and key ally for Europe: but the EU is obliged by the laws of nature to show that membership of the club has its value. If the UK gets to leave without paying the right price, then the EU commits suicide: it states to the world and its own members that being in our out makes no difference, or worse, that you can have most of the advantages of being in from the outside, without paying the price for it, with the bonus of being able to bash the insiders for opportunistic political gain. This would amount to an open invitation for populist movements to slaughter the EU, and ask for further exits: the EU would be digging its own grave, creating a market for more big lies. The Exit Treaty is thus bound to be generous, but not preserve the status-quo in terms of full access to the single market.

Many of these points have been made during the debate on Brexit. They were answered with emotional generalities. The big difference in the coming months is that the Utopia of recovered sovereignty will have to be translated into legal text and practical arrangements. This is when the Big Lie will unravel point by point, nuance by nuance. The pain of keeping most of that hated legislation, and the inevitable painful mental projections incorporated in the Exit Treaty describing how the UK will accept future legislation made in Brussels, are going to retroactively destroy the Leave campaign.

Britain is an open society, hosting some of the best minds on this planet, and of course famously endowed with common sense, which always prevails in the end. With the heat and passion of the campaign gone, the facts, the practicality of real life will catch up with British public opinion. There’s sheer beauty in the fact that all of this will happen while Britain is still in the EU. The real terms of the choice will crystalise, comparing the practicalities of what it means to be outside and inside the EU.

As public opinion will wake up to the truth about Brexit, dissolving the Big Lie and realising the incredible cynicism of its mainstream supporters, somebody like Theresa May from the Remain campaign within the Conservative Party itself, not to mention Labour, will be able to corner Mr Johnson, prime minister or not, possibly depose him, and force a new referendum.

The new vote will be the real choice, relying on genuine social understanding of what is actually at stake, and chances are it will reject Brexit with a strong majority. Giving up negotiations for the Exit Treaty should then close the matter once and for all. A huge social learning exercise will have taken place for both the UK and Europe. It’s going to be a lesson for populists of all creeds.

A few final contextual issues. This is not about ‘weak Britain’ and ‘strong EU’. Any EU member state would be similarly ‘weak’ in relative terms if it were to leave the EU. It is about the inescapable reality of an inter-dependent world. Nobody can defy gravity. Nor does this mean that the UK, or England, could not be great countries and successful economies outside the EU: of course they could. The non-EU UK would remain a large, interesting, innovative, economy on its own, and the City would not book its wholesale transfer to Frankfurt anytime soon. The point is whether or not the UK will be better off on its own, and whether it has been ambushed with a Big Lie on this occasion.

Last but not least, a likely reversal of British public opinion on Brexit should not become a reason for complacency by the EU: ‘oh, look at this, we are not that bad after all’. The fact that one of the greatest countries on Earth, which has shaped humanity, has voted to leave, whatever the details of that vote, is the ultimate reason for a fundamental shake-up. Whether the UK actually leaves or not, the EU should see the Brexit vote as day one in a project to reinvent itself in order to regain the only currency that can guarantee its continued existence: trust, by its member states and its citizens alike. But chances are the UK will not leave us in the end.

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