Brexit

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I’ve been putting off writing this entry for literally months: the document I drafted this in was created on January 2, 2019. And about once a week since, I’ve sat down to finish it and each time stopped short of sending it. After all, I thought, everything will be so much more certain in a few days. But certainty never seems to materialize.

In 2016, the United Kingdom held a referendum, which asked British citizens this question: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” About 37% of eligible voters chose to leave, and the exit of Great Britain from the EU was given the cute name, “Brexit.” On 28 March, 2017, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, submitted a letter to the European Council President notifying the EU of the UK’s intention to leave.

Nothing of consequence has happened in the intervening two years.

The British government has, of course, held negotiations with the EU to plan the UK’s withdrawal, but these negotiations have been, to date, pointless. The Prime Minister has thus far only managed to negotiate a deal that is unacceptable to Parliament.

Until last week, the UK was scheduled to leave the European Union on March 29. But without a plan, the date has been moved. As of this writing, the UK will cease to be in the European Union on April 12. There is still no plan for what happens next.

Bargaining

In the absence of something practical to talk about, people still talk about why the vote went the way it did. It feels immaterial now. The referendum pit the infinite number of Leave dreams against the dull reality of Remain. Now it’s just the dull reality of Brexit. There are few British politicians that believe, much less act, as if anything other than Brexit is possible. So that’s that.

For all the supposed divisions between Leavers and Remainers, the last two years has made clear that they have one thing in common: a bottomless well of cynicism. Leavers and Remainers alike often regard the European Union as merely an economic “deal” that might be kept, renegotiated, or canceled. They are unable or unwilling to see their neighbors as neighbors. It’s a wholly transactional view of the world. With few exceptions, Brexit has become a vehicle for British politicians to preserve or gain power and little else.

Supposedly, Parliament will vote again on a negotiated agreement, which would establish procedures for a transition period while the UK and the EU negotiate actual, long-term agreements on issues such as trade, public safety, and travel and immigration. When the agreement was last voted on, it was rejected by a margin of 230 votes. There is little sign that opinion has changed.

What might happen after that? You’re going to need a flow chart to figure that one out. The uncertainty is frustrating, to say the least. There’s a chance of additional delay, there’s a chance of new negotiations, there’s a chance of a new referendum, but many of the branches of possibility terminate in an unpleasant-to-catastrophic “no deal” scenario.

No deal

Supposing the UK actually leaves, Audrey and I are not EU or UK nationals, so we’re not impacted by changes in immigration law. Unlike our neighbors who are EU nationals, we won’t suffer the indignity of applying for new residence documentation. We’ll continue under the terms of Audrey’s work sponsorship. Similarly, Audrey’s work is not directly impacted; she works for an international organization that is created and funded by treaties and agreements apart from the EU. Those are the few sources of relief.

Our greatest concerns right now are the pound, an actual crashing out of the EU, and our futures (or lack thereof) in this country.

Since the vote in 2016, the pound has fallen in value considerably with respect to the dollar. Immediately after the referendum, paying our student loans went up about 10% overnight. And with each new uncertainty, each failed vote or dispute between interested parties, the pound fluctuates wildly. A no-deal scenario might be devastating to our personal finances; a negotiated agreement might buoy us. There’s no way of knowing what will happen and we’re not fabulously wealthy—I can’t hedge a years’ income by trading foreign currency.

The transition from EU membership to a no-deal outcome is the most worrying. It’s increasingly clear that the government is not prepared for such an outcome, despite acting in ways which might precipitate it. The nuts and bolts of EU membership mean that border procedures would have to be invented overnight. It may be that the UK and EU would be initially permissive at border crossings to minimize shocks. An optimal crashing out might still involve long lines at ports of entries and higher prices on food and other imports. But the worst case might lead to literal food and medicine shortages, soldiers deployed to keep the peace, and evacuating the Queen. Knowing what I know about the recent competence of the British government, we should probably be stockpiling food.

In the longer term, whether the UK leaves disastrously or not, Brexit has made it clear that the UK is not a place I would want to call home for long. When Audrey and I chose to move here, we thought we were moving to a stable country, well-connected to the rest of Europe and the world. We did not think we were moving to an increasingly self-centered, inward-looking society.

Assuming the rules stay the same, we can apply for citizenship here next year. But with the current state of affairs, why bother? Who would choose to join a small island nation that has decided it has no further use for friendly neighbors, that demonstrates no plan for its own future, and little concern for the wellbeing of its citizens? Just thinking about citizenship in such terms feels small-minded and transactional. Brexit must be rubbing off on me.

Will it stick? I guess we’ll find out sometime between now and eventually.