The Brexit Conundrum: To Pay, Or Not To Pay?

One of the most contentious issues in the Brexit negotiations is the talk of a “divorce bill.” The European Union is stressing in all Parliamentary meetings that to extricate itself from the treaties, Britain must pay an exit bill, which has been “calculated” at around 100 billion Euros. However, Article 50 (the process by which the UK officially leaves the EU after a maximum of two years negotiations) does not include any penalties for leaving other than contracts and obligations that are already in the process of being undertaken.

Many see the “Brexit Bill” as a last-ditch attempt by the European Commission to shore up the shaky economies of the other member states. As of 2016, nine countries were Net contributors to the EU budget, with the UK accounting for around a fifth of the total; with an annual gross figure of around 12 billion GBP, the UK could end up paying around an extra eight years of fees.

That the EU would even ask for a leaving payment is something that many suspect is a “punishment” for daring to threaten the overall control of the Commission; it is suggested that by ensuring Britain “fails” after leaving, it would scare other countries into staying. Across the European continent, there are movements in place that are already seeking their own exits. France, the Netherlands, Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Italy, and others, all have solid anti-EU parties that are “nipping at the heels” of the established governments.

After a poor performance in this year’s snap General election, Britain’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, has had to deal with not only a hostile opposition party but also infighting within her own Conservative Party. To date, the British Brexit team has failed to assert their authority and have instead been playing to the EU’s tune. Under treaty arrangements, Britain is forbidden to have official trade talks with other nations while still part of the European Union project. This could cause considerable economic disadvantage when it has already been stressed by the U.S., India, Australia and 102 other nations that they would be willing to begin a free trade (or reduced tariff) deal with the U.K almost immediately.

This week, Mrs. May will attempt to reassert her authority over Brexit during a scheduled Friday meeting. She will meet with the 27 other European leaders in Florence and lay out her vision for the post-Brexit UK regarding trade, cooperation, and relationships. But will it be enough?

Many “Brexiteers” are rightly worried about what shape the final deal will take. Mrs. May was a Remain voter and campaigner, as were the majority of the Conservative party, the Labour party, The Liberal Democrats and the SNP; in fact, the vast majority of politicians were against Britain leaving the EU. And many Leavers are concerned that she will opt for a “Soft Brexit.”

A “Soft Brexit” as opposed to a “Hard Brexit” would entail the U.K staying tied into some aspects of the European Union in exchange for tariff-free access to the European Single Market. What is often purposely misrepresented is the fact that regardless of any deal at all, Britain would still have access to the single market, the way that almost every other country on the planet does. It is feared that for a “better deal” the Prime Minister will make sacrifices on the two elements that drove the Leave vote to success: the Free Movement of People and National Sovereignty. If any concessions are made in these two areas, 17.4 million voters would rightly consider this a Betrayal of Brexit.

To date, the British government has released a series of Brexit Positioning papers. Each describing desired outcomes of the negotiations with the EU. Unfortunately, they are only “desires.” There is no mention of “red lines,” or of clear demands; it seems to many that it is more a wish list waiting for approval from a stern parent. It may be different within the inner circles of power, but from the outside, many are questioning how well British negotiators are doing (mostly because the main people involved were and are all committed Remainers).

The British lawyers took to giving a slide show presentation to their European counterparts which has been mocked by many within the halls of EU power and even back on Britain’s shores. According to Reuters, Andrew Hood (former legal advisor to resigned Prime Minister David Cameron), “The reason lawyers gave a two-and-a-half hour presentation is because no government minister had made a decision on policy.” He continued:

“I always thought when I was in the foreign office that if you ever need to revert to lawyers you’ve probably lost.”

The nation waits expectantly for Theresa May’s talks. The Leave voters are hoping that she will be strong and defend the key principles of Brexit, while the Remain voters hope that she will fold to EU pressure.

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