The drama over Brexit con­tin­ues while Bri­tain and Europe strug­gle

Post Tribune (Sunday) - - Opinion - Arthur I. Cyr is Clausen Dis­tin­guished Pro­fes­sor at Carthage Col­lege.

“Fog in chan­nel, Con­ti­nent cut off,” is an old Bri­tish joke about a news­pa­per head­line about weather over the English Chan­nel. Cur­rent de­vel­op­ments re­gard­ing the Euro­pean Union (EU) un­der­score the en­dur­ing re­al­ity that Bri­tain is “in” but not “of ” Europe.

On Nov. 25, at a sum­mit meet­ing in Brus­sels, Bel­gium, EU rep­re­sen­ta­tives for­mally con­firmed the ne­go­ti­ated de­par­ture of Bri­tain, known as “Brexit.” Pres­i­dent Jean-Claude Juncker of the Euro­pean Com­mis­sion ex­pressed diplo­matic “sad­ness” at the prospect.

Prime Min­is­ter Mark Rutte of the Nether­lands spoke fa­vor­ably of the Brexit agree­ment as “the best we can get.” His­tor­i­cally, the smaller na­tions of the EU have been most com­mit­ted to am­bi­tious supra­na­tional in­te­gra­tion.

The with­drawal agree­ment reached be­tween the Bri­tish gov­ern­ment and the EU is both long and com­plex. The 599-page doc­u­ment is guar­an­teed to keep lawyers, diplo­mats and po­lit­i­cal staffs (and politi­cians who do their own read­ing) up late.

The main el­e­ments in­clude con­ces­sions by Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May’s gov­ern­ment in Bri­tain, re­flect­ing un­der­stand­ing of the re­al­ity that the na­tion is part of Europe. The new treaty guar­an­tees EU ci­ti­zens free move­ment within the United King­dom (i.e. Eng­land, Scot­land and Wales — the re­gions com­pris­ing Bri­tain, plus North­ern Ire­land). Like­wise, UK ci­ti­zens will have the same rights within the EU.

There is ex­plicit agree­ment that Bri­tain will leave the EU on March 29, 2019, but with flex­i­ble con­di­tions. The na­tion will re­main in­side the im­por­tant cus­toms union that was the ini­tial ba­sis of Euro­pean in­te­gra­tion.

This tran­si­tion pe­riod will last un­til De­cem­ber 2020, and longer if both sides agree that is nec­es­sary. Ad­di­tion­ally, Bri­tain has agreed to pay ap­prox­i­mately 39 bil­lion pounds to cover em­ployee pen­sion costs and other fi­nan­cial com­mit­ments al­ready made to the EU.

North­ern Ire­land is es­pe­cially im­por­tant, and the agree­ment in­cludes a guar­an­tee to avoid any hard bor­der sep­a­rat­ing that volatile re­gion from the rest of Ire­land. Im­po­si­tion of any re­stric­tive bor­der con­trols could spark re­newed vi­o­lence by the Ir­ish Repub­li­can Army.

Now Bri­tain’s be­lea­guered, ded­i­cated Prime Min­is­ter May must per­suade her na­tion’s Par- lia­ment to ac­cept the agree­ment, and that may prove im­pos­si­ble. Some mem­bers of her own Con­ser­va­tive Party as well as the other par­ties in the House of Com­mons op­pose the terms.

Brexit has been at the cen­ter of the na­tion’s po­lit­i­cal de­bate for 21⁄ years. In June 2016, a re­fer

2 en­dum ini­ti­ated by Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron re­sulted in a nar­row 51.9 per cent of those vot­ing opt­ing to leave the union.

In the face of this sur­prise re­sult, Cameron re­signed as head of the gov­ern­ment. Suc­ces­sor Theresa May called a gen­eral elec­tion for early June 2017. In another sur­prise, the Con­ser­va­tives lost their nar­row House of Com­mons ma­jor­ity. The party has gov­erned since by co­op­er­at­ing with the right-wing Demo­cratic Union­ist Party of North­ern Ire­land, also op­posed to the Brexit ac­cord.

In re­cent decades, the Con­ser­va­tive Party, which led Bri­tain into the Euro­pean com­mu­nity, has shifted po­si­tion. Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher was fa­mously a eu­roskep­tic. The 1997 gen­eral elec­tion brought into Par­lia­ment a younger gen­er­a­tion of Con­ser­va­tive politi­cians who re­flected her views, in­clud­ing Theresa May.

Bri­tain stayed aloof from the orig­i­nal Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity, founded in the 1950s. How­ever, since World

War II, the na­tion’s trade and in­vest­ment have be­come heav­ily con­cen­trated in Europe.

That fact of life will not change, in­side or out­side the EU. Bri­tish prag­ma­tism and the im­por­tance of that econ­omy to the rest of Europe likely will re­sult in a work­able agree­ment — even­tu­ally.

GETTY-AFP

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May an­swers ques­tions about her Brexit agenda at a Par­lia­men­tary li­ai­son com­mit­tee meet­ing on Nov. 29 in Lon­don.

Arthur I. Cyr

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