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Brexit: a vision from our UK Director

BrexitToday is Wednesday, 29 March 2017. Much is being made of the date since it marks the delivery of a letter from Theresa May, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, to Donald Tusk, President of the European Union. A letter that triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, a mechanism that permits a nation to split away from the European Union. It is a new mechanism, made law in 2009 and never before tested.

So, history was made today. No country has ever before chosen to leave the European Union, a club of which the United Kingdom has been a member for 44 years – thirteen years more than Spain.

The EU is worried that other countries may follow where Britain has led.


Trade and immigration

No wonder then that its official negotiating stance is uncompromising. The EU knows that the UK would like favourable trading terms with its former club. The UK knows that its 27 neighbours would like favourable immigration rules for their citizens. So the negotiations will probably boil down to Trade vs. Immigration.

But how much of this is for show? An exercise in posturing, to use this year’s most popular political insult. If the worst came to the worst, some think Britain could survive without preferential trade terms with the EU. But it is unlikely that it could survive without EU workers.

The USA and China have both expressed an interest in a bilateral trade deal with the UK, following Brexit. Their combined GDP comfortably surpasses that of the EU. That is before other countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand are taken into consideration. They too, have been positive in preliminary discussions with Mrs May´s government.

Inward investment into the UK has been healthy since the referendum in June. Toyota, Boeing and McLaren have all announced large manufacturing investments into the North of England and Nissan has confirmed its commitment to Sunderland following a deal brokered directly with Mrs May. The economy has done so well that the Bank of England has had to revise upwards its forecasts. There is an understanding that inflation will rise, a recession will come and life will become harder but that the country will find a way to survive without the EU if it has to.

But it would prefer not to.

In just the same way, in a country where companies struggle to find staff and where organisations such as the National Health Service depend heavily on personnel from the EU, it is impractical to imagine a future in which EU nationals are barred from entering the UK.

It is therefore likely that the UK will continue to work with EU business and welcome EU immigrants. The rights of EU citizens living in the UK will be respected.


Staying in Europe without staying in the EU

Mrs May´s letter stresses that, while the UK wishes to leave EU institutions, it does not wish to leave Europe. The UK remains a committed strategic partner and friend of Europe and will continue to work closely on matters of security.

The mood in Britain is neither optimistic nor pessimistic. Uncertainty abounds – but so does a sense of perspective. Two hours after Mrs May´s letter was delivered to Mr Tusk, Londoners, visitors and police gathered on Westminster Bridge in silence, remembering the death and chaos caused by a terrorist just one week ago.

This is a country, like Spain, that lives under constant threat of attack. Important as trade agreements are, they are secondary to issues of security. Cross-border exchange of intelligence is key to foiling criminal plots and there is no question that the UK and the EU will continue to work together on issues that affect the lives and safety of their citizens.

The EU has a historical opportunity to become stronger. There is an urgent need for reforms, not to mention a strong desire for them too. This is a moment to make sure that the EU of the future will be a better club.