PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The United Kingdom rang in 2021 with a divorce from the European Union.
Brexit went into full effect after a years-long political battle, which began with a referendum vote in 2016. Negotiations on how exactly Brexit would unfold began shortly thereafter.
“Different proponents of leaving the EU promised very different visions of what Brexit would look like or what the relationship between the U.K. and the EU would look like, and there was no agreement,” said R. Daniel Kelemen, professor of political science and law at Rutgers University.
Kelemen said the lengthy negotiations took into account the kinds of sacrifices the U.K. would have to make in this deal — particularly, trade, not just in goods but also in services and labor.
Champions of Brexit see it as a “global Britain” because they can trade with China, India and so on. But they are also leaving the EU, the biggest market in the world.
“The reality is that the volume of trade and investment between the U.K. and European countries absolutely dwarfs that with these other emerging economies in Asia and elsewhere,” Kelemen said.
On the other hand, the U.K. holds a lot of power in financial services, which Kelemen said still needs to be discussed, along with how to deal with transfers of data — something the U.K. is very strict about.
“London was sort of what New York is to the U.S., the financial hub with Wall Street. Well, London was the financial hub for Europe,” he noted.
When the U.K. voted on the Brexit referendum, Kelemen said those in favor of leaving won 52% to 48%, with Scotland voting decisively against it. Now four years later, Scotland’s leadership is already demanding another referendum to leave the U.K. and join the EU.
Kelemen said there could also be a push for Northern Ireland to join Ireland again over border disputes.
“This is the big irony,” he said. “Brexit was promising sovereignty for the U.K., breaking away from this union of Europe, but really what it might do in the end is break up the U.K. itself.”
The relationships between the United States, the U.K. and the EU remains to be seen, but Kelemen said there will be change.
When it comes to the economy, the EU is way more influential for the U.S. “Keep in mind,” he said, “the population of the EU collectively, with those 27 member-states, dwarfs the population of the U.K. on its own.”
But when it comes to allies in other facets, Kelemen explained the U.K. acted as our access point within the EU. Businesses investing in the U.K., for example, had a bridge into Europe.
“Now that (the U.K.) left the EU, they are just less important and less valuable as a partner,” he said. “We have to deal with the EU directly, deal with Germany, deal with France, member-states of the EU, and the U.K., I think, will find itself marginalized.”
However, the coronavirus pandemic — which is rampant in the U.K. — pushed Brexit to below-the-fold news, making it difficult to fathom the economic disruptions or freedom of movement directly caused by the divorce.
“You can’t really tell now because the country’s on lockdown and travel is restricted because of COVID anyway,” Kelemen said. “So that’s kind of muddying the waters of the whole issue for now.”