Britain, EU must make all-out efforts to avoid no-deal Brexit

The Yomiuri ShimbunBritain leaving the European Union without a prior agreement, throwing both parties’ economy and society into huge chaos: It is a serious situation that this worst-case scenario is gradually becoming a real possibility.

Britain and the EU have abandoned a plan to work out a deal within this month in their negotiations on divorce terms and future bilateral trade relations, postponing it until November. Even if they hammer out a deal, there remains the hurdle that the agreement will have to be approved by the parliaments of both parties.

There are less than six months to go before Britain leaves the EU on March 29. If time runs out on the negotiations and approval procedures, a transitional period of maintaining the current bilateral relations until 2020 cannot be approved, so tariffs and customs procedures will then be reinstated for the first time in some decades.

Stagnation in movement of people and distribution of goods will be inevitable due to the delayed response. One can say that the realization of an orderly Brexit is at a yellow traffic light.

One factor that has deteriorated the situation is the confrontation within the ruling Conservative Party. Those who advocate a soft Brexit prioritize maintaining the relationship with the EU, while party members in favor of a hard Brexit advocate restoration of sovereignty, arguing Britain will not be made a “colony” of the EU.

In a Conservative Party convention on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Theresa May called for supporting her government’s soft Brexit plan that was decided in July, saying, “Even if we do not all agree on every part of this proposal, we need to come together.”

Mutual concessions needed

The pillar of the government’s plan is to accept EU rules on such things as standards of agricultural products and conducting the free transaction of goods. The hard Brexit proponents have criticized the plan as a de facto staying in the EU, but the movement against the government divorce plan did not prevail. This is apparently because their argument lacks a realistic counterproposal.

May should accelerate efforts to realize a deal with the EU by taking advantage of having regained the unifying force at the party convention, thus making arrangements to promote negotiations with the bloc.

The EU response has upheld the principle that “the free movement of persons, goods, services and capital are indivisible” and said that Britain “cannot ... opt-in to those sectors you like most.”

The issue over management of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, a member of the EU, remains unresolved.

It is problematic that Britain and the EU have not shown any signs of making concessions to each other in past negotiations.

Both sides are called on to endeavor to find a middle ground by sharing a sense of crisis about the harmful effects that would be brought about by a no-deal Brexit. Postponing the deadline for divorce negotiations beyond next March and delaying Brexit itself in that month should become a matter to be studied.

Japanese firms and other foreign companies with bases in Britain are busy preparing for various possible scenarios due to uncertain prospects of future developments. One company after another has been taking action to transfer European head offices from Britain. Britain and the EU must work toward preventing their positions in the global economy from declining.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 5, 2018) Speech


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