Toni Mikec, Foreign Policy Contributor
Although the British people’s voice was heard in the choice for the UK to leave the European Union, it is becoming clearer and clearer that exiting might not be an easy thing to do. At the same time, with the parliamentary elections on the horizon, it is clear that Brexit will be a major factor in the election with Theresa May’s Conservatives being opposed by the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn. Although it was not necessary for May to have called for an election this early, many political analysts have argued that this was deliberately done to increase her parliamentary majority and to increase Britain’s leverage at the negotiating table.
Theresa May succeeded in opening another breach with regards to the UK’s relationship with the European Union when she accused some politicians in Brussels of stirring up animosity within Britain in order to tip the election away from the Conservatives or at the very least, to weaken their strength in the Brexit talks. While Labour has been greatly discredited as a result of their statements and actions regarding the Brexit vote, this has opened a breach in the British political system for a third party, possibly the pro-EU Liberal Democrats, to gain more seats. In such a tense political and economic atmosphere of uncertainty, it is to no one’s surprise that every political party currently running is trying to do what it can in order to win.
The so-called “bureaucrats of Brussels”, according to May, have threatened Britain in order to get Brexit talks to fail and, in turn, to discredit the Conservative Party, which is responsible for the transition. After talks with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker ended in tension on both sides, May argued that negotiators in the European Union have hardened their stance vis-a-vis Brexit, especially with what role the UK would play in European politics after it left. May also warned that if Brexit talks failed, the domestic economic impact would be catastrophic, especially among ordinary, working Britons.
President Juncker was no more optimistic about the possibilities of a smooth exit after meeting with the Prime Minister. President Juncker referred to May as a "tough woman" and foresaw that the upcoming Brexit talks would be incredibly difficult, painful and protracted. May mirrored his statement by saying that she would be a “bloody difficult woman” during the talks. The EU's negotiator on Brexit, Michel Barnier, registered a third vote of apprehension regarding how difficult Brexit was likely to be. He predicted that "some have created the illusion that Brexit will have no material impact on our lives or that negotiations can be concluded quickly and painlessly. This will not be the case.”
Another currently unresolved issue between the UK and the European Union is the question of how much Brexit will cost and why the UK should be paying all of that money in the first place. While some British critics have voiced their outrage at the high price of this bill, EU negotiators have denied that this was the case. Rather, Barnier said that “all we're asking for is that the accounts to be cleared for honoring commitments the U.K. has entered.” Regarding the question of how much the bill will be, the Financial Times has reported that the EU has increased the cost to 100 billion Euros.
At the same time, May’s choice of words regarding the EU’s alleged interference have drawn shrill criticisms from both the Lib Dems and the Labour Party. While Labour has accused her actions of cloaking her administration’s failures in dealing with the immediate economic fallout of Brexit with the flag of patriotism and jingoism, the Liberal Democrats called her decision “desperate and bizarre” and feared that it would mean that the UK would leave the EU under harsher terms than supporters of a “soft Brexit” want. While Barnier signaled his intentions to allow EU citizens who are currently living in the UK to maintain their current status and political rights, others, such as Professor Matthias Matthijs of the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, have issued more gloomy predictions of a “hard Brexit” that would not allow Barnier’s vision to become a reality.
No matter who ends up winning the Parliamentary election, all the experts agree that Brexit is too important to be a political pawn in the hands of a political party. The choices that Britain makes at this point are likely to influence its economic and political development, especially the trajectory of both of the two major British political parties for years to come. In addition, with Trump’s support for Brexit, there is likely going to be closer US-UK relations in the future and weaker US-EU ones.
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