Brexit is now a done deal as Britain has now left the EU with no way back, all bridges burnt. Except there is no deal and, as we stand, no prospect of a sensible working arrangement in sight. Both the EU and Britain are drawing up their battle plans while sending the opening salvos over the twitter-sphere. This is war, not the type of war usually waged between fighting nations with battlefields of gore and corpses but a very modern democratic war fought out in the economy and arena of public opinion.
It will get messy as Britain and The EU slug it out. The smart money is on the EU to win as the combined economic power of the 27 is far greater than that of the UK. But, as History reminds us, the mighty Spanish armada in the reign if Queen Elizabeth (the first one) was outmanoeuvred by a more nimble English fleet of smaller ships using fire as a weapon aided by a fierce storm which the would-be Spanish invaders had not factored into their invasion plans.
Brexit was and remains a potent and toxic ideology drawing on patriotism, nationalism, populism, bigotry and xenophobia whipped along by opportunistic demagogues, stoked by EU intransigence and fueled by social media. Faced with a popular uprising in its recalcitrant northern province, the EU bureaucrats refused to compromise on their cherished principles of free trade, free movement of labour and the supremacy of the EU legislative assembly in areas of the society and laws that it deemed appropriate. Likewise, the British government was not able to reassure sceptics that fellow EU citizens were allowed access to the UK labour market but not automatic residential status or access to welfare, while implementing austerity measures that weakened the social infrastructure already weighed down by imported labour.
Arguments that migrating workers were tax positive fell on deaf ears. Despite EU assurances that intervention in domestic law had the benign intent to establish a level playing field in business, Brexiteers claimed this was mission creep, with sinister designs on the UK’s autonomy. The EU refused to concede one iota and Prime Minister Cameron came home humiliated and empty-handed. The Brexiteers claimed that this proved their point, that the UK was infected by the virus of Euro Federalism that needed to be purged from the body politic, legal system and social fabric, and the pro-Brexit British press agreed. In hindsight, in those conditions, Brexit was a foregone conclusion.
Unless both sides compromise, it is inevitable that the UK will leave the transition period in 2021 with the worst possible terms, that is with no free trade with the 27 countries of the EU and severe restrictions on the ability of British companies and citizens to operate and live in the EU. The impact on the economy and social infrastructure of the UK will in the short term – 2 to 10 years- be significant. The EU will continue its policy of no concessions and the Johnson government has staked too much to abandon its bravura no-surrender position. Northern Ireland will finally be restored to Eire and Bonny Prince Charly will come back from exile to free Scotland from the sassenachs. How England hopes to reclaim world economic dominance without resorting to the twin evils of slavery and colonialism is a mystery that the economists of Brexit have yet to explain. The politicians of the UK and the EU are just left trolling each on Twitter, competing to blend wit and insults to prove a point that doesn’t need to be made. Brexit is, after all, a pointless exercise in demagoguery and high minded ideology. Reasonable compromise on both sides could have stopped the Brexit train, but War and its origins are never reasonable.
Prime Minister Johnson is perhaps hoping that an ally will come to the rescue. But in this war with the EU, it looks like there is no help at hand, no Prussians as at Waterloo or USA as in WW2. It really is Britain against the world which is a heroic and gallant notion but not at all practical.
What does the ensuing breakdown of cordial relations between the UK and its 27 neighbours mean for British yacht crew? Optimists believe that economic pragmatism will trump nationalism and that the two sides will reach a working trade agreement which includes working visas. However, the sound bites coming from the UK are not promising. The Johnson government is committed to a closed borders policy and extending the hostile environment to include EU workers who must prove their eligibility to work in the UK. The EU will have no option but to respond in kind and there is no reason why the yachting industry will be allowed to operate under different rules. A yacht berthing in EU ports with UK crew will have to provide valid working visas, as happens in the USA. Yachts employing crew without the required paperwork may be subject to fines. The dockwalk may be a thing of the past.
Currently, British crew can roam the EU freely. At the end of the transition period, UK citizens will be able to enter the EU on simple tourist visas. Upgrading these to working visas will mean complying with another set of bureaucratic procedures. This is a challenge the yachting industry will have to meet.
It is not all doom and gloom. Economic sense may prevail and the transition period be extended while a sensible compromise is reached. The Johnson government has a huge majority and five years in power. Prime Minister Johnson will not want to leave a legacy of a devasted economy and the road open for a reinvigorated Labour government, not if he wants a second term in office. He will remember Tony Blair who had his war and lost his reputation as one of the great politicians of his era. And his hero Churchill who won a war but was turfed out unceremoniously at the next election.
In the end, it may not be the people who decide but one man’s vanity and his sense of his place in history.