July 28, 2021

Five years after the referendum, the elusive benefits of Brexit

The British government is recruiting. “We are looking for a director for the new government unit ‘Brexit Opportunities'”, ad on Twitter, Saturday June 19, David Frost, Minister for Europe under Boris Johnson. The job profile? “Visionary, inventive and dedicated people to help shape the direction of the country”, specifies the former chief negotiator of the divorce treaty with the European Union (EU), a diplomat as affable as he is fearfully pro-Brexit.

How to get the most out of Brexit? It is an understatement to say that this is a full-time job requiring a good deal of imagination. Five years after the referendum of 23 June 2016 on membership of the EU, if it is still too early to draw a definitive assessment of this major geopolitical event for the United Kingdom and the rest of the Union, it is also difficult to deny its destabilizing effects already powerfully at work. As for its benefits, it is still difficult to identify them. Hence the Downing Street job offer.

Restrictive policy

The sharp slowdown in trade linked to the Covid-19 pandemic has had considerable effects on flows between the United Kingdom and the EU, its main trading partner. Hence the difficulty in quantifying the specific impact of Brexit. It is undoubtedly negative, the divorce having forced, since the 1is January, UK exporters faced time-consuming and costly customs declarations. According to the British tax authorities, exports of dairy products fell by 90% in the first quarter of 2021 compared to the first quarter of 2020, by 32% for whiskey and by 14% for mutton. The fate of the City also remains uncertain, pending an agreement between London and Brussels on financial services, a considerable component of national wealth.

It is still too early to say whether Brexit will deliver a ‘Global Britain’, but domestically the corrosive power of divorce with the EU is undeniable

London having opted for a “hard Brexit”, freedom of movement is no longer, and Europeans who try their luck at the borders of the United Kingdom see the change in migration policy: they are turned away (just like non-Europeans) if they do not have a job offer with an annual salary exceeding 25,600 pounds (29,900 euros). This restrictive policy will have serious long-term consequences for a country whose dynamism has been fueled by immigration and which remains very dependent on foreign labor.

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