POST-BREXIT NEGOTIATIONS: ALL HANDS ON DECK
By Oluwole Sheriff Olusanya
On Friday, 23rd June 2017, something else happened apart from my younger brother’s 24th birthday. The post-Brexit negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union commenced.
These negotiations were part of the discussions at the two-day summit held at the European Union Secretariat in Brussels, Belgium where the issues discussed ranged from tackling the spread of terrorist propaganda on the internet to plans for cooperation on defense among other discussions aimed at steering the European Union to a better future.
Co-incidentally, 23rd June is the first anniversary of the Brexit referendum which saw the ‘leave supporters’ win 53% of the vote in a highly publicized election. The Brexit negotiations cover the negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union leading up to Brexit, being the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union, following the United Kingdom’s European Union membership referendum in June 2016. The Brexit negotiating period began on 29 March 2017 when the United Kingdom served the withdrawal notice under Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union. The period for negotiation stated in Article 50 is two years from notification, unless an extension is agreed.
But what exactly is ‘Article 50′?
Article 50 is a clause in the European Union’s Lisbon Treaty that outlines the steps to be taken by a country seeking to leave the bloc voluntarily. Invoking Article 50 kick-starts the formal exit process and serves as a way for countries to officially declare their intention to leave the EU. British Prime Minister, Theresa May became the first leader to invoke Article 50 on March 29, 2017 following British voters’ decision to pursue Brexit – the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union – in a referendum on June 23, 2016. Wrangling in the courts and Parliament slowed the process down, but the government kept to its original timeline of triggering Article 50 by the end of March 2017.
In subsequent paragraphs, I would discuss the three important aspects of the Brexit negotiations; Citizens’ Rights, Trade agreements and Immigration.
Citizens’ Right – There are about 3.2 million EU citizens who currently work and live in the UK, and 1.2 million British citizens’ work and live in the EU. UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May made her opening offer to the EU’s leaders on citizens’ rights during a dinner held last Thursday night, describing it as a “fair and serious” attempt to protect the rights of 3.5 million EU citizens in the UK and 1.2 million Britons in the EU. Under the terms of the offer, people who arrive lawfully before Brexit will have the chance to build up the same rights to work, healthcare and benefits as UK citizens. The offer fell well short of the EU’s demand for its citizens living in the UK to maintain all EU rights in perpetuity, and was attacked at home and abroad last Friday. Other issues discussed include the rights of movement, citizenship, abode, education, social support and medical treatment, and the payment of pensions; and the extent to which these rights apply to family members. “Associate citizenship”, suggested by EU27 negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, would allow UK nationals to volunteer individually for EU citizenship, enabling them to continue to work and live on the continent.
Trade Agreement – The Leave campaigners cleverly pulled the wool over the UK electorate’s eyes when they claimed, “Our trade relations with the rest of the world remains unchanged” (Lord Lawson, 29 February 2016). This is, of course, utterly untrue. They claimed that membership in the World Trade Organization (WTO) and “continuing” trade agreements would protect the post-Brexit UK. However, the terms of the UK’s membership in the WTO, and all other “mixed” trade agreements could be in jeopardy if the UK tries to exit without first securing a successful transitional agreement with the European Union. Admittedly, the UK could probably sign more trade deals with non-EU countries if it left, but there are two caveats. First, those deals aren’t easy to agree while maintaining important protections such as a public health system such as the National Health Service, and public education, which are areas of keen liberalization for many other countries. Second, as seen in the Trans-Pacific Partnership discussions, even if the European Union has nothing to do with such treaties, they can take a very long time to negotiate, and they remain controversial among Brexit supporters.
Immigration – Until the UK effectively withdraws from the EU in 2019 or at another agreed date, the current system of free movement of labor between the EU27 and the UK remains in place. The report of the House of Commons Exiting the European Union Committee on The Government’s negotiating objectives, published in April 2017, proposed (paragraphs 20 and 123) that the future system for EU migration should meet the needs of different sectors of the UK economy, including those employing scientists, bankers, vets, care workers, health service professionals and seasonal agriculture workers. UK’s PM Theresa May while answering press questions on 5th April 2017, commented that the free movement of labor would not end in March 2019; an implementation period of possibly five years would give business and government time to adjust.
Conclusively, I remember vividly, the stress and rigour I had to go through when I was sourcing for a post graduate education in the United Kingdom before the University of South Wales, South Wales, United Kingdom offered me a partial scholarship to study Business Studies starting in February 2018. I am a registered member of the British Council, I get constant invites to UK education exhibition programs and others programs in Lagos and sometimes outside of Lagos but the requirements and other conditionalities attached to a UK education almost overwhelmed me, I also got a job at Canterbury Christ Church University, Kent, United Kingdom through a friend – Laura Spencer who works for the University but my projected salary would not be enough to cater tuition fees and other expenses while on campus so I opted for distance learning.
My story is almost at par with countless international students and other people who would love to visit the United Kingdom for various reasons all over the world but the United Kingdom’s immigration requirements are extremely strident and a ‘Brexit’ would only make things worse.
God Bless Us All