Brexit — a scheme of no avail

Daniel Shevchenko, Student Writer

It is not unreasonable, I would say, to wager that most people have sparsely, if ever, heard of Folkestone, England before. The same can be said with perhaps even greater certainty about Coquelles, France, almost directly across the English Channel from the former. That would be, in itself, rather unsurprising, given that neither municipality offers any major world-famous historic landmarks or tourist destinations, were it not for one important feature which elevates both towns into the eyes of the (primarily European) populace—the Channel Tunnel. The Channel Tunnel—or, as it is often colloquially referred to, the Chunnel—serves as a highly important link between the European mainland and the United Kingdom, allowing cargo trains and vehicles to pass more cheaply and freely between France and Britain without many handicaps; its widespread usage and importance in the infrastructure of both these two nations and the European Union (EU) as a whole can be viewed as a symbol of the close political and economic ties which the countries it connects have had in recent decades.

And yet, with the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, the bond created by the Channel Tunnel is weakened, and the tunnel itself is complicated in function. Since 2016, when the British government held a referendum regarding citizens’ desire to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom has been in the headlines for considering such an economically unprecedented event; in 2017, when the British government invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union in order to officially begin the secession process (a first in European history), the nation was catapulted into the spotlight, with controversy erupting in the media and around the globe about the economic and political consequences of such an action. This controversy recently flared up once more when British Prime Minister Theresa May approved a long-negotiated Brexit deal agreed to by the EU. Such political discontent is not without reason; on the contrary, many changes in trade, borders, and world relations have proven to be in one way or another adverse to the United Kingdom (as stated recently by the nation’s government itself), as I intend to elucidate below.

Firstly and chiefly among Brexit issues is the matter of trade and travel across the U.K.-Ireland border. Under the laws currently in place, neither of these two nations are parties to the Schengen Agreement—a pact of free and unchecked movement between members of the EU (and several countries outside of it, such as Switzerland); that being said, while Ireland and the United Kingdom maintain opt-outs from this agreement and impose border checks on visitors from other nations, their own internal border is still open and free to transversal. This is all possible due to the present inclusion of both countries in the European Union, which guarantees inter-member travel and work liberties (although border checks may be enforced at nations’ discretion); with the exit of the United Kingdom from the EU, however, many factors change. Without even mentioning the potential political divide formed by creating a hard border between Ireland and the U.K’s Northern Ireland—two territories very close to each other in historic and cultural ties—trade could be massively hindered between the former and the latter with the imposition of customs checks and severe border controls at an international boundary currently denoted by no more than road signs. Additionally, jobs and business on both sides of the border will be lost or harmed greatly by such restrictions, given that thousands of people commute across the border on a daily basis for the performance of basic services in their lives. Therefore, I believe that for the sake of Irish-British stability it is important to maintain an open border—which would, spare needless and sparsely explicable complications, require it to remain in the European Union.

Additionally included in the repertoire of the Brexit dispute is migration into and out of the United Kingdom. Many nations in the European Union (specifically those in Eastern Europe, such as Poland) have tens or even hundreds of thousands of citizens working and residing in Britain, owing to EU citizens’ ability to live indefinitely in any member state of the union. With the exit of the nation from the EU, such residents’ abilities to remain in the U.K. will be restricted; this will inevitably lead to an exodus of massive proportions from Britain, leading to a large demographic shift which may cause further economic destabilization in a nation which will already be shaken by the Brexit ordeal. The process will also likely hinder European tourism of the United Kingdom—not necessarily the greatest factor contributing to the country’s GDP, but nevertheless an aspect to be considered—leading to further financial difficulties for the country. On a side note, I will add that I have considered living in a European Union nation later in my life; given that such constraints on freedom of movement go against my desire to explore Europe, and in light of the aforementioned possible issues in the event that Brexit comes to pass, I vehemently object to Britain’s secession.

Lastly, a concern which may seem to be of low likelihood but is nevertheless viable is a complete breakup of the United Kingdom itself as a direct consequence of the nation’s withdrawal from the European Union. Scotland has voted internally on withdrawing from the U.K. as recently as 2014 in a referendum; recently, talks of a new referendum have been stirring up, and given the pro-European sentiment which Scotland has expressed on several occasions—the most notable of these being the “Scottish EU Continuity Bill,” as it is informally known, which the Scottish parliament passed (and been legally challenged on) earlier in 2018 in order to maintain more Eurocentric order post-Brexit—it is not unreasonable to believe that the secession of the United Kingdom from the EU may push the Scottish people over the edge and lead to its exit from Britain. Northern Ireland, on the other hand, is, as was stated earlier, culturally and politically close to Ireland and has also expressed a desire to remain in the Union; as such, it is even more likely that it might unify with its neighboring Republic of Ireland, leaving the U.K. composed solely of England and Wales. While neither is of low importance, such withdrawals from the nation may prove to be utterly catastrophic for its function and stability, in addition to a loss of history and territorial prowess which it currently claims as its own. In view of these factors, my stance is that Mrs. May and her government would be near-suicidal in performing a “hard” Brexit—that is to say, a complete withdrawal from the European Union and its associated economic bloc—as is dictated by the agreement.

With such concerns under consideration, one can see why this decision on the side of the United Kingdom has spurred intense argument. The Chunnel, indeed, will be weakened under its conditions, and so will the strong relationship between the European continent and the two islands so divided by this event. The Chunnel will weaken, and with it will the economic prosperity of the United Kingdom which is so well-renown at the present. How drastic or light the effects of such change will be, few are qualified to say; however, from the eye of a third party, this decision is poorly thought through, deplorably executed, and inevitable to backfire, and I urge the British parliament in Westminster and Prime Minister May to further consider the consequences of withdrawal prior to signing an agreement which will so drastically alter the political allegiances and functions of the European continent.