Maggie Lennon of WFI's National Committee works with partners across Europe from her base in Springburn, working with refugees and asylum-seekers. She lays out what Brexit might mean for Scotland.
There is a chance that the UK's continuing refusal to play nice in the ball pool encourages some EU members to actively begin to look forward to our leaving and feel less inclined to lift a finger to ease our passing.
There’s an odd attitude developing around the impending Brexit process which is that it’s not important how we got here, we just have to deal with it now that we are. But this coupled with “it will all be fine in the end” mantra are very dangerous, in particular laissez faire approaches in the face of such a momentous change to UK society and to UK civic society.
In an attempt to continue to throw light on the situation, it beomes clear that understanding and acknowledging how we got here will be fundamental to understanding how the UK government will approach the exit.
The Conservatives were only ever really were excited about the EU while it was trade based. When it became apparent that the flip side of that coin meant measures were needed which protected people as well as the balance sheet, Euro Scepticism reared its head and the suspicion of the Social Chapter began alongside our lack of commitment to the EU project.
So far so obvious perhaps but this is where we are likely to become very unstuck.
There are 3 major stages or barriers to the Great Repeal Bill as it’s getting known. The first is the actual basic divorce settlement which will include the issue of our possible alimony. That is the most pressing time wise needing to be settled in late 2018.
The second is what will happen when all the EU legislation needs to be fitted into a new UK legislative programme. The timescales on that could vary from a couple of years post 2019 to 15 years! There is a general understanding and agreement that in the very first instance most EU legislation around rights etc. will simply, be a cut and paste job, that we will have rules and regulations that mirror those from the EU……. for now. But there is the rub. It’s only for now. What about in the future? The UK government will be putting much of their employment, rights and social protection regulations in aspic while EU rules will continue to develop and progress, the EU not being a finished project. This means over time there could be a yawning gap between the UK and the EU on basic principles, and that’s only if the legislation stays still, but what if it goes backwards? Some brexiteering was done on the basis that leaving the EU would specifically allow us to reduce regulation in the workplace always in the pursuit of competition. Things for workers could get a lot worse.
The third area is what will the free trade deal look like and this really is the one that could take generations to sort out not least because each deal must be ratified by every individual member’s states and in some cases regions within these states. Just ask the Canadians how that was for them!
So, what to do?
Starting with the divorce settlement the pressing ask we identified was being given assurances about, or even an acknowledgement of, a plan about the future replacement for current EU funding. This would appear to be directly linked with what the size of the alimony will be which could be anything from nought to 60 billion.
In terms of how do we makes sure we keep pace with developing EU social protections, we could ask for some sort of clause in the Great Repeal Bill which says there needs to be a regular 5 year review of where we both are, or even we could ask that a clause is added that as EU law progresses UK law must too. But as that is in direct contrast to taking back control nobody is really holding their breath for that one. We also need urgent answers about what will happen to the reams of case law on which decisions are made and precedents identified, once we are no longer tied to that law. Does it all disappear or will it have any currency in our own courts in the future even though we will no longer be under the jurisdiction of the EU Court of Justice? I know, lots of questions. I didn’t say the asks were easy!
As far as Scotland is concerned we don’t have the competency for employment law under our current powers, which means that we would be at one further remove from being able to influence to ensure that workers here were treated fairly and so it comes down to a matter of trust.
Indeed, the whole future of the devolution settlement is at risk in any event. We know some powers such as fishing and agriculture will revert to Westminster with no guarantee of being devolved back to Edinburgh. But what other powers might we lose? From my point of view, we need an urgent assessment of just how weak devolution might become.
But ever eager to find a silver lining might this question over powers provide a chance to strengthen the current devolution settlement. The First Minister faced with the possibility of a much-delayed Indy vote till 2021/22, might for example suggest that many more powers need to be devolved and quickly, particularly those on Equality, Employment and full welfare powers.
This becomes an imperative if Scotland are going to keep up with Europe on key law. A successful post 2021 vote to leave the UK could mean a full spilt as late as 2023/24 or Scotland being out the EU for 4-5 years. With a growing chance, that our law is at a far remove from Europe’s making it harder and longer to re-join.
So finally, what about free trade. It’s pretty much agreed that any free trade agreement will depend on something being paid by way of a divorce fee (taking us nicely back where we started) but that understanding must be considered in the light of recent suggestions that we might just leave without any deal at all. A position that David Davis admitted has not been impact assessed!!
Getting depressed yet? Well here’s something else to consider, it may well be that the UK's continuing refusal to play nice in the ball pool encourages some EU members to actively begin to look forward to our leaving and will feel less inclined to lift a finger to ease our passing. France is already positioning itself to have English replaced as a working language and the Paris financial sector is openly rubbing its hands at the prospect of financial services relocating there. Only Ireland of the 27 other member states has said that their own economy might be materially worse off if UK leaves without a decent deal and that’s partly tied up with possibility that a Unified Ireland might take a bit of an economic pounding in its early days.
So where does that leave us all? Well pretty deflated it must be said, but onward we press and we agreed that at the very least we should form some sort of progressive alliance to make these cases to the public and politicians in a way that isnt too obtuse and with a sense of urgency. So, if you fancy joining us up there on the barricades we reckon there is plenty of room.