How Dangerous Is Brexit?

On the morning of Sunday 27th January 2019, Britons up and down the UK woke up, made themselves a cup of tea and opened their newspapers What they read shocked them

The headlines reported that the British government might implement martial law if Britain leaves the European Union without a trade deal An anonymous government source told The Sunday Times, “The overriding theme in all the no-deal planning is civil disobedience and the fear that it will lead to death in the event of food and medical shortages"" How did Britain get into a situation last seen during the violent Troubles in Northern Ireland? Just how dangerous is Brexit? On the 23rd June 2016, the UK and Gibraltar voted, by a margin of over one million votes, to leave the European Union 23 years of political integration had come to an end overnight Separation will not come easily

The so-called divorce bill currently stands at $51 billion, which Britain will have to pay in full to the EU by 2064 Britain’s current GDP stands at $26 trillion Yet that GDP will be severely affected by Brexit The UK Treasury estimates that British GDP will be 3

9% lower fifteen years after Brexit than it would have been had the UK remained in the EU That equates to national output being $1316 billion lower than today However, with weeks to go until the United Kingdom withdraws, this is still considered a best case scenario If the UK leaves without an agreement with Europe, the Treasury predicts the UK economy could be up to 9

3% weaker This concern is shared by Daniel Coats, the US Director of National Intelligence In the annual Worldwide Threat Assessment, he stated

“US-EU trade, valued at $12 trillion in 2017, would almost certainly suffer disruptions from a no-deal Brexit, which would further dampen UK, and to a lesser extent EU, economic growth” This economic uncertainty has had the knock-on effect of discouraging businesses from investing in Britain

For example, Tom Enders, CEO of aircraft manufacturer Airbus, says, “Please don’t listen to the Brexiters’ madness, which asserts that because we have huge [manufacturing] plants here we will not move and we will always be here They are wrong” In February 2019, the Institute of Directors reported that 29% of British firms are planning to move out of the country after Brexit This upheaval has led to further uncertainty in the jobs market The World Travel and Tourism Council warns that almost 700,000 jobs could be lost over the next decade from the tourism industry alone, because of a “no deal” Brexit

Over half of those lost jobs would be in Europe Even more worryingly, a survey in September 2018 found that one tenth of UK firms risk bankruptcy from Brexit Amongst companies’ primary concerns, according to the Chartered Institute of Procurement and Supply, are diverging regulations, increased import costs and border friction This is of particularly concern to the food industry, since the UK produces only 61% of the food it eats A recent study conducted by Imperial College London found that even an extra two minutes spent vetting lorries carrying European food through British ports would create traffic jams stretching 46 kilometres

If their produce is fresh, this delay could spoil the food and lead to shortages on supermarket shelves In January 2019, several of Britain’s biggest food retailers signed an open letter stressing that it was practically impossible to stockpile the quantities of food necessary to feed the country With less money, less food and fewer jobs circulating, it is little wonder that the National Police Coordination Centre has devised a contingency plan to deal with widespread civil disorder Brexit has already caused deep divisions within British society The 2016 referendum that decided Britain’s future within the EU was split along age, wealth and regional lines

On 16th June 2016, MP Jo Cox, who supported remaining within the EU, was murdered in the street by an ardent Brexiter This might merely be foreshadowing of the violence to come In December 2018, Bloomberg journalist Therese Raphael argued that the massive French protests by the Gilet Jaunes or Yellow Vests, could be replicated in London after Brexit A January 2019 survey by the PR agency Edelman found that 40% of British people think violent protest is more likely after Brexit The EU is also anticipating British civil unrest in the wake of Brexit

On the 28th January 2019, a report by senior EU intelligence chiefs warned that riots in Britain are almost inevitable This would make the UK “unstable for decades” To prepare for this eventuality, the UK government has drawn up plans to declare a state of emergency under the 2004 Civil Contingencies Act The act allows for martial law, travel bans, curfews and the amendment of any other law, except the Human Rights Act, for 21 days This would effectively amount to a serious curtailment of civil liberties in the UK

Yet even if martial law isn’t declared, Human Rights Watch is concerned for the future of liberty in Britain According to Benjamin Ward, deputy director for Europe at Human Rights Watch, the UK government has chosen to discard the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights The EU Charter of Fundamental Rights offers protections currently not in British law Ward says, “Scrapping this means a future UK government could legislate, for example, to weaken rights for pregnant women and parents at work, or make it harder for people with disabilities to prove discrimination” Indeed, Prime Minister Theresa May has publicly expressed her desire to get rid of the Human Rights Act, which she can only do once Britain is no longer under EU law

Furthermore, one of the major obstacles to settling a deal between the UK and EU is the subject of Northern Ireland The six counties that form Northern Ireland split from the Republic of Ireland in 1922, yet enjoy an open border as a result of EU membership However, with Brexit, the UK’s only land border will effectively be closed, with the usual checkpoints and customs inspections required at a border with a foreign nation The only proposals to prevent this all say the Irish border can remain open as long as Northern Ireland remains within EU regulations, whether for a short period, or permanently The British government fears this would effectively turn Northern Ireland into an EU satellite and separate it from the rest of the United Kingdom

The government fears this could reignite the tensions of the Troubles, when Irish paramilitary forces fought to unify Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland with violence The conflict lasted thirty years and claimed 3,532 lives This includes 1,840 civilians killed in terror attacks in Ireland and mainland Britain Peace was only restored in 1998 with the Good Friday Agreement However, the peace process depended on Britain and Ireland’s EU membership, which guaranteed the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland remain open

In short, Brexit jeopardises the peace agreement British politicians also fear renewed problems in Northern Ireland could combine with the economic damage of Brexit to encourage independence movements in Scotland and Wales Polls show that support for Welsh independence rose from 3% before the Brexit referendum to 28% after the vote Meanwhile, 69% of Scots believe Brexit makes Scottish independence more likely Ultimately, the United Kingdom of England, Scotland and Northern Ireland might come to an end within the next couple of decades, thanks to Brexit

This is all, however, conjecture The UK and the EU have yet to even finalise a Brexit agreement Most of the dire warnings are based on the worst case scenario Supporters of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU claim that negative stories about Brexit are symptoms of “Project Fear” This is defined as a concerted effort by anti-Brexit media and politicians to exaggerate, emphasise or simply make up the negative effects of Brexit

Instead, leading Brexit supporters like MP Jacob Rees-Mogg say that not only would Britain survive but thrive outside the EU In November 2017, Rees-Mogg criticised the UK Treasury for making “false assumptions” about the strength of a post-Brexit economy He also claimed that following Brexit, Britain would benefit from a $1764 billion boost between 2020 and 2025 According to him, this boost would come from renewed free trade, reduced regulation and lowered corporation tax to attract investment

Former Bank of England governor Mervyn King also dismisses “Project Fear” predictions When the Bank of England forecast the cost of leaving the EU without a deal would be over 10% of GDP, King responded, “Two factors are responsible for the size of this [predicted] effect: first, the assertion that productivity will fall because of lower trade; second, the assumption that disruption at borders will continue year after year Neither is plausible” Several reports indicate that, once free of EU regulation, the UK’s production could see extraordinary growth A study by the North Atlantic Fisheries College suggests with full UK control over territorial waters, the fishing industry’s output could rise by $4 billion

The Institute of Fiscal Studies predicts that when EU tariffs are abolished, consumer prices will be reduced by 12% This in tandem with findings by the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development, which argues that through the EU Common Agricultural Policy, British food prices have been kept artificially high With Brexit, the OECD suggests UK consumers could collectively save $26 billion

The drop in the value of the British pound has also had an upside Tourism to the UK increased by 6% following the Brexit vote, as foreign visitors expected to get more for their money And according to OCO Consulting’s global study of small to middle-sized businesses, 33% of businesses believe Brexit is having a positive effect on their profits In addition to these benefits, following Brexit, Britain will also no longer have to contribute to the EU budget This might see the country save a net amount of $11 billion every year

Then there are the non-economic potential benefits to Brexit Gina Miller, a committed supporter of the EU, says the current political turmoil could lead to an overhaul of the British political system Miller asks whether Brexit could lead to a new political system “somewhere between representative democracy and direct democracy something more fit for the 21st, 22nd, 23rd century?” It may also be worth remembering that most intelligence activity within Europe has almost nothing to do with the European Union According to former GCHQ head Robert Hannigan, "As an institution, the EU's role is extremely limited It doesn't really get involved in any sharing of operational intelligence The real co-operation on operations – counter-terrorism or cyber or hostile states – goes on bilaterally and always has"" This means that the UK’s security arrangements are unlikely to change following Brexit

As the current head of MI5, Andrew Parker, says, “Half of Europe is scared of terrorism and the other half is scared of Russia and both halves want us to help them… That will not change with Brexit" Yet the UK is coming under increasing pressure from external threats like cyber crime and terrorism The problem is especially acute for the police, who rely on European initiatives like Europol and the European Arrest Warrant to detain criminals faster Sara Thornton, chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, announced in September 2018 that officers would be forced to fall back on “slower, more bureaucratic systems” after leaving the EU She says, “Existing EU tools allow us to respond quickly and intelligently to crime and terrorism in the UK and the EU – they make us better at protecting the public

The alternatives we are planning to use, where they exist, are without exception slower, more bureaucratic and ultimately less effective” This does not detract from Britain’s role in European defence Britain remains part of the European Defence Initiative, which shares intelligence and support operations should Europe come under attack French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel desire to form a European Army This new force was announced after Britain voted to leave the EU and therefore has never included British armed forces in its plans

However this move towards the formation of a European Army, as Sky News foreign affairs editor Deborah Haynes points out, could be construed as a snub to the American-led NATO coalition NATO already serves as a regional counterweight to Russian influence American and European ambitions haven’t always aligned, and according to political science professor Stephanie Hofmann, Brexit will end Britain’s traditional role as mediator between the EU and the US The discord and gaps in Europe’s defences that this might expose, should not be underestimated Brexit has proved one of the most divisive events in Britain in decades

Deep rifts have formed between generations, communities and even families With constant political instability and an uncertain future, it’s no surprise that a Sky Data poll in November 2018 revealed that many people do not consider Brexit worth the trouble When asked if the current Brexit proposal was worth the economic cost, 63% replied no Brexit is currently set to happen on the 29th March, 2019 It remains to be seen whether Britain will thrive or decline after it

One thing that is certain, is that it will take significantly longer to heal the divisions within British society

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