Brexit deal

The Pak Banker - - FRONT PAGE -

From the mo­ment in June 2016, when it be­came clear that the Bri­tish peo­ple had voted to end their na­tion's 43-year part­ner­ship with the Euro­pean Union by nar­row mar­gins, pub­lic dis­course in the UK has been wracked by high drama, cri­sis and bit­ter divi­sion. Any hope that Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May's 585-page draft Brexit deal would en­able the na­tion to set­tle its dif­fer­ences and move on now lies in tat­ters. Unit­ing her frac­tious cab­i­net was one thing; but af­ter a tu­mul­tuous day in Par­lia­ment in which 5 min­is­ters re­sign, ac­com­pa­nied by votes of no-con­fi­dence, mur­murs of her days be­ing num­bered and the pound plum­met­ing in value, the po­lit­i­cal rifts are only set to deepen. In a worst-case sce­nario, with mount­ing pres­sure from Scot­land to re­main in the EU, the UK it­self could fall apart.

On one level, at least, Bri­tain's even­tual with­drawal from the EU should hold lit­tle to fear from the UK's part­ners in the Gulf, as the list of ex­hibitors at this week's Adipec oil and gas con­fer­ence made clear. No fewer than 143 of the com­pa­nies were Bri­tish, re­flect­ing a long and healthy trad­ing re­la­tion­ship with the UAE and a com­mit­ment to a mu­tu­ally pros­per­ous fu­ture. Free of the EU, the UK will be work­ing hard to de­velop fresh trad­ing re­la­tion­ships, es­pe­cially with old friends, and there are few more val­ued than the UAE. Out­side Europe, the UAE is the UK's fifth largest trad­ing part­ner. Since the Brexit ref­er­en­dum, the two coun­tries have been forg­ing fresh al­liances and busi­ness is flour­ish­ing. Last year alone, the value of trade be­tween the UK and the UAE rose by 12 per cent to $22.4 bil­lion.

But a smooth con­tin­u­a­tion of trade isn't all that's at stake. Bri­tain joined the EU in Jan­uary 1973, just 13 months af­ter the fed­er­a­tion of the emi­rates, and from its ear­li­est days the UAE has had the con­ve­nience of ne­go­ti­at­ing with Europe as a com­mon mar­ket, pre­sent­ing a united front on ev­ery­thing from defence and for­eign pol­icy to air travel and mi­gra­tion. To­day, deal­ing with Europe means deal­ing with 28 coun­tries at a stroke. That is set to change - and worse may be in store. With the rise of pop­ulist po­lit­i­cal sen­ti­ment across Europe, many fear Brexit is the crack in the dam that will see the great Euro­pean ex­per­i­ment burst asun­der. For a glimpse of the po­ten­tial con­se­quences of such a frag­men­ta­tion, look no fur­ther than the pol­icy cri­sis pre­cip­i­tated by the US with­drawal from the Iran nu­clear deal, which has left Gulf states hav­ing to rec­on­cile their ob­jec­tives with those of two op­pos­ing western camps. Fi­nally, whether or not the UK leaves the EU as planned on March 29 next year, a thought must be spared for the 100,000-plus Bri­tons liv­ing and work­ing in the UAE. It should not be for­got­ten that much of the Brexit cam­paign was fu­elled by a groundswell of right-wing op­po­si­tion to migrants. Cos­mopoli­tan by na­ture and tol­er­ant of other cul­tures, Bri­tons liv­ing over­seas face the prospect of re­turn­ing to a coun­try they might no longer recog­nise and, un­der cur­rent cir­cum­stances, per­haps no longer care for.

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