After leaving the European Union, Britain faced administrative difficulties along the European border. At the same time, according to Izvestia’s interlocutors in the political establishment of the United Kingdom, the worst predictions about what will happen after Brexit did not come true. However, there are still enough problems, and while London is solving them, Scotland is preparing to hold a new referendum on independence.
Almost two months have passed since London and Brussels agreed on the future of their relationship after Brexit and the United Kingdom finally left the European Union. The British media reacted to this without much optimism, but there was no panicky outrage in their materials. From January 1, they began to tell their readers about the essentials – namely, how Brexit affects Britain in practice.
News broke that truck drivers are stuck at a checkpoint in the French city of Calais, where the Eurotunnel connecting Britain and the mainland ends; that due to problems at the border, companies have suspended the delivery of goods from the United Kingdom to Europe; that due to the difficulties of supply, the Europeans received unexpected VAT invoices and customs declarations; that the zero tariffs and quotas that the government promised are not working, which is why British business is suffering in the first place. Hence the dissatisfaction with the economic agreement that London and Brussels concluded at the end of 2020. According to research British foreign policy group, the best possible deal is considered by only 24% of the subjects of the Kingdom.
And although these problems directly indicate that at the initial stage, the trade agreement does not work as smoothly as we would like, both Britain and the European Union say: it is too early to judge the real consequences of Brexit. Moreover, this agreement has not yet been ratified – the European Union asked Britain for a postponement with the intention to complete all official procedures by the end of April.
– At the EU level, work continues on the ratification of the document. In this context, it is a little early to assess the impact of Brexit, – the press service of the European Council told Izvestia.
The European Commission, in turn, in an interview with Izvestia stressed: although the presence of a free trade agreement is better than its absence, “it cannot come close to the advantages that EU membership provides to countries.” Speaking about the consequences, the EC referred to the published by it European economic forecast… According to the EU, by the end of 2022 Brexit will cost London four times more than Brussels: by that time, the Kingdom will lose 2.25% of its GDP, while the European Union – only 0.5%.
However, this forecast does not cause much resonance in Britain – as a source of Izvestia in Westminster told, the hype around Brexit has noticeably subsided. According to him, the consequences of the exit were mixed.
“On the one hand, it is clear that there were administrative difficulties in moving goods between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. In addition, some industries faced non-tariff barriers that impeded the export of goods: the most obvious example was the shellfish industry, where the EU blocked the transit of products across the English Channel for reasons that remain unclear, – said the source of Izvestia. – On the other hand, the worst predictions of a “catastrophe” did not come true. In particular, the expected shortage of vegetables and fruits in stores did not occur, although customs declarations are annoying, they are filled in and processed. Most noteworthy is the successful rollout of the vaccination program, which is far more effective in the UK than in the European Union. If Britain remained in the EU, this success would be unattainable.
According to experts, the most fundamental change was the introduction of customs formalities between Northern Ireland (SR) and the rest of the country. When the parties agreed on the main deal, it was important to them that the border between Northern Ireland (part of the United Kingdom) and the Republic of Ireland (an independent EU member state) was kept open. As a result, London and Brussels decided to create two transparent borders – one separates the SR along the Irish Sea, the other runs between it and the republic. Together with Britain, the SR left the EU Customs Union, but at the same time remained in the single European market. If goods from the EU go only to Northern Ireland, then London does not impose tariffs on them – thus, the SR can conduct independent trade with third countries.
“This was one of the most controversial aspects of the economic agreement,” Mary Dejevski, a columnist for The Independent and an expert at the Valdai Club, told Izvestia. – It was adopted to avoid a “hard border” with Ireland. In fact, he left Northern Ireland with empty store shelves – due to new customs formalities when importing goods from the main island. Even if this issue is resolved, the new customs border speaks of the economic separation of Northern Ireland, which in the end could lead to its unification with the republic – although half of the population of the SR is against it.
In the meantime, London is resolving the administrative issues provoked by Brexit, Edinburgh is preparing to hold another referendum on the withdrawal of Scotland from the United Kingdom. The previous vote took place in 2014, when the Scots were asked to answer the question whether it should become an independent country, and 55% of those who voted answered in the negative. The question of independence was closed.
The outcome of the ensuing Brexit referendum sparked outrage in Edinburgh as 62% of Scotland residents voted to stay in the EU. This gave her government an excuse to talk again about separation from the kingdom. In January 2021, Scotland’s first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, announced that if her Scottish National Party (SNP) wins a majority in the May local parliamentary elections, it will hold a consultative independence referendum without regard to London’s position. Later, the Scottish media reported that the government will determine the exact timing and wording of the question in the coming weeks.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, during his visit to Scotland in January 2021, said that he did not intend to “enter into meaningless wrangling, bearing in mind the fact that such a referendum has already been held not so long ago.”
– The same people who continue to talk about the referendum, a few years ago, in 2014, argued that such a vote should take place only once a generation. I act in accordance with what they said then, the politician emphasized.
Izvestia’s interlocutor in Westminster believes that talking about a referendum in the midst of a pandemic is inappropriate.
“This is too much posturing and domestic politics,” he explained. – Although the Scottish government has repeatedly announced its desire to hold a referendum, the UK government has flatly refused to consider this idea. In any event, there is a strong feeling among the general public that it would be completely inappropriate to hold a referendum in the midst of a pandemic.
To vote, Edinburgh must get London’s approval. According to Mary Dejevski, it is not yet clear what will happen if the SNP makes such a request. There are several options: either Boris Johnson will change his mind, and another referendum will still happen; or SNP will vote without government approval and the result will be considered illegal. Depending on the outcome, a conflict may arise, similar to the one between Spain and Catalonia, the expert summed up.