Guest Opinion: The case for a soft Brexit
Britain’s decision to Brexit from the European Union last June sent a shudder through Europe and the rest of the Western world. Markets reeled. The pound plummeted. David Cameron, Britain’s leader at the time, quit his job, and America saw one of its strongest allies wobble under the weight of insularity and populism.
Now, a British court ruling has set off another shock wave — though this time it’s rippling through the pro-Brexit camp. Britain’s High Court ruled that Prime Minister Theresa May must get Parliament’s approval before diving into negotiations with the EU over the terms of Britain’s departure. The ruling still needs to be upheld by Britain’s Supreme Court, but if it sticks, May and her Conservative Party cabinet won’t be able to enjoy a free hand in forging a Brexit strategy.
Does it mean Brexit could instead become Bremain? Could Parliament force a second referendum vote?
Highly doubtful on both counts. No matter how wayward they thought the rationale for Brexit was, pro-EU lawmakers aren’t likely to risk angering the 17 million Britons who voted to leave the EU.
The ruling understandably rankles advocates of Britain’s exit. They note that the electorate has spoken, and loudly. So by what right, they reason, does a court now force May’s government to involve Parliament in talks with the EU?
May had been banking on stewarding the Brexit effort without having to haggle with lawmakers. May hasn’t laid out that strategy, but she has hinted at its broad outlines. They include hewing to a “hard Brexit,” a clean break from the 28-nation bloc. That would entail heavy restrictions on the flow of EU migrants into the United Kingdom, as well as the loss of access to Europe’s common market. EU leaders have made it clear that Britain can’t have it both ways — limits on migrants from Europe without forsaking inclusion in Europe’s single market.
The latter is more crucial than it may sound: Loss of access to Europe’s single market would wallop the U.K. economy. It’s not just that the imposition of new tariffs would drastically impede U.K. trade with Europe. London is a global hub for financial services. Without access to Europe’s market, the leading London-based banks might well pack up and set up shop elsewhere in Europe — perhaps Paris, Frankfurt or Dublin.
If a hard Brexit would damage Britain’s economy, the resulting weaker U.K. is exactly what the U.S. and the rest of the West does not need. What’s the alternative to a hard Brexit? A soft Brexit, of course.
A soft Brexit maintains free movement of European citizens in and out of Britain, allowing the U.K to keep some access to Europe’s common market. How much access would depend on the trade deal May and Parliament reached with EU leaders. But a stronger British economy means a healthier Britain — and a healthier U.S. ally.
That’s where Parliament comes in. At some point, Brexit will take place. Britons supported it 52 percent to 48 percent, and that can’t be reversed. But with the terms of Britain’s leap from the EU in play, many lawmakers dread the potential for a hard Brexit if May’s government is allowed to negotiate without any say-so from Parliament.
The High Court’s ruling, if it stands, allows Parliament to steer the talks toward a soft Brexit, and that’s the path to take. After all, who wants a hard landing when an easier one’s possible?