Impossible Brexit options: WTO or new referendum?

After the breach of Brexit negotiations in Salzburg, the British Prime Minister Theresa May made a statement. UK Government photo, taken on September 21, 2018. Some rights reserved.

In western Austria’s ‘saltcastle’ – Saltzburg – the baroque native city of Mozart, the last EU Summit which took place there left a very bitter Brexit taste. The city’s confectioners’ efforts of supplying an unlimited variety of chocolates, baring the face of the celebrated composer, were to no avail. The British Prime Minister, Theresa May, left the beautiful city enraged by the hard talk of the 27 EU leaders. The protection of EU’s internal market and the promise of no hard borders on the island of Ireland, were the fortifications, which mainland Europeans had pitched up for themselves to repulse all English assaults.

The Franco-German forces seem to have stood their positions. May, after having returned to London, released a new offensive telling them the ball is in their court and they must come out from their defensive lines and try a new proposal. She said their standing offer is abasing and thus totally unacceptable for the UK. To make things worse, Paris and Berlin replied, the next move on Brexit should come from London. In this way, the impasse came to an apex, paralyzing what good and productive still exists in the two negotiating teams.

The blame game

Unfortunately, the blame game in progress, makes the prospect of a wild separation plausible and, everyday, becomes more tangible. Honestly, though, 10 Downing Street and Theresa May, have crossed a lot of space to meet the European demands. The proof of it is the fact the hard Brexiteers in her governing Tory party have ostracized her. Before the Salzburg stalemate, around 50 of them were very close to launching a challenge against May as Party leader and thus also toppling her from the Premiership. Seemingly, the only disadvantage of that option was and still is that the majority of the Tory MPs wouldn’t easily accept Boris Johnson as a new Party leader or Premier.

Now, with London being as defiant as May could be and Paris and Berlin unmoved from their positions, the no-deal Brexit prospect has revived the discussion about alternatives. If there is no deal at all, the EU-UK future trade relations will be organized under the rules of the World Trade Organization. With the US threatening to leave WTO and the EU also possibly introducing high tariffs on British imports, this outlook appears very thorny for the UK.

The Norwegian option

Next is the Norwegian option. This country has a more or less full zero tariff trade with the European Union, at the exception of some special provisions for the trade in fisheries products. There is a big obstacle though related to the ‘red lines’ Britain cannot cross; it’s the authority of the European Court of Justice. According to the Norwegian pack with the EU, the ECJ rulings prevail in cases of commercial or otherwise disputes between the two sides. Clearly, no 10 Downing Street occupant can accept that.

The next and more probable option is the Canada-EU pact, adapted for Britain. It’s about the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement the North American country and the EU signed last year. It cuts almost all tariffs and makes it easier to export goods and services in both the EU and Canada. This alternative is backed by Boris Johnson and his Tory Brexiteer followers, who say there are enough votes in Parliament to back it.

A CETA for Britain?

However, according to the EU Commission, “CETA has been provisionally in force since 21 September 2017 following its approval by EU Member States, expressed in the Council, and by the European Parliament. It will only enter into force fully and definitively, however, when all EU Member States have ratified the agreement”. Unfortunately, this procedure is not yet completed. Actually, the populist Italian government threatens to not ratify it. It must be recalled also that the Wallonian Parliament of the French speaking region of Belgium had a very hard time approving CETA.

As a matter of fact, any possible economic and trade deal London and Brussels could agree upon, has to be endorsed by all member states’ Parliaments, even by some regional assemblies, according to the constitutional provisions in force in some member states. As a result, this process may take even years to be accomplished. It will be also open to circumstantial controversies between a number of member states and Brussels. But the EU-UK future relations cannot be built on such uncertainties.

In conclusion, the future economic and trade relations between Britain and mainland Europe are practically in shambles. Possibly, a full reversal of Brexit through a new referendum could change that. However, defying the results of the June 2016 plebiscite, would be a stain on UK’s democracy. The WTO option remains, probably. the only way out. As for an early legislative election, the danger of a new hung Parliament paralyzes those who think of it as a solution.

 

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