LAWRENCE — Ever since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union in 2016’s Brexit referendum, debates have raged on whether it was the right decision and how the U.K. would separate itself. A new study from a University of Kansas international trade law expert argues that, regardless of what one feels of the decision, its implementation has been “a historic debacle.”
Raj Bhala, Brenneisen Distinguished Professor of Law at KU, said the United Kingdom has failed to protect its economic, political, strategic and legal interests and that those failures in execution were compounded.
“These four failures were prompted by a fifth fiasco, namely, the U.K. dimming its status as a multicultural beacon for global human capital talent in its effort to control immigration,” Bhala wrote in the study, published in the Manchester Journal of International Economic Law.
In the article, Bhala outlined the nearly five-decade relationship between the U.K. and EU, how the decision to leave was a five-level fiasco, and where it leaves England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.
In economic terms, the U.K. did not identify or defend its economic interests. Bhala wrote that the two sides maintained free trade on the surface without raising tariffs or taking protective measures. He outlined how the most contentious economic matter in the negotiating led to the U.K. overemphasizing and ultimately selling out its fishing industry. The U.K. also failed to protect other important economic sectors such as electric vehicles, financial services and data flow, he wrote.
Meanwhile, the U.K. set itself up for political partition, especially in relation to the borders of Ireland and Gibraltar.
“The realm is in peril. There could even be a triple partition, a so-called ‘Scexit,’ depending on the outcome of a Scottish referendum, as Scotland voted overwhelmingly against Brexit,” Bhala said.
Brexit was a better deal for the EU than the U.K. strategically as well, Bhala wrote. The U.K. negotiated on the assumption that it shared an equal place on the world stage with other international powers. In reality, it is now operating in a world dominated by the United States, China and European Union and has isolated itself. That is illustrated by the fact the U.K. had derived about 13% of its gross domestic product from exports to the EU, while conversely only 3% of the EU’s GDP derived from imports from the U.K. That incongruity illustrates the U.K. was bordering on self-delusion in its negotiations, Bhala wrote.
Brexit-induced isolation also weakened the U.K.’s position in terms of national security, as its cooperation and alliance with the rest of the European Union were diminished, Bhala wrote.
In legal terms, Brexit ushered out common regulatory practices between the two parties, diminishing free trade. Bhala, an international trade law expert, said that free trade ended because British merchandise suddenly became subject to EU regulatory measures. Providers of British goods and services now have to prove they meet EU standards, which was not previously necessary, leading to extra charges, taxes, paperwork and the halt of some exports to the EU. Bhala illustrated how the U.K.’s position has been weakened in negotiations to resolve disputes and how Britain put itself on an uneven playing field with its former partners.
With so many of the results of Brexit working in favor of the EU and to the disadvantage of the U.K., one might ask why they made the deal. That can be traced to a desire to limit immigration, populism and ultimately, racism, Bhala wrote. In an attempt to hold on to culture and national character and stem the tide of immigration, the U.K. ultimately harmed its own citizenry by costing them the ability to have passports granting the freedom to move and work throughout the EU, he added.
While Brexit has become official, it is far from over. Negotiation on numerous points will continue, and discussions have begun on whether the United Kingdom will remain unified or if members such as Northern Ireland or Scotland will leave, possibly to rejoin the EU, Bhala said.
“They also left much that mattered – or should have mattered – to future negotiations,” Bhala wrote. “Redolent of its 1997 deal over Hong Kong with the People’s Republic of China, the U.K. failed to nail down important points. It behaved in Brexit, as then, as thoroughly wet. Consequently, it is folly to think Brexit is over.”
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