This week members of the United Kingdom Parliament voted to take back some control over the parliamentary processes from the floundering executive. Whether this is finally a sign that MPs are starting to get pragmatic remains to be seen but if so this is long overdue.
The management of the Brexit process in the UK has been characterized by a chronic lack of leadership not only in the government ranks but across the House of Commons. Like a bunch of fighting rats in a bag, far too many of our elected representatives have placed political self-interest above the greater interest of the UK and have been quite rightly castigated for their performance.
The prime minister has appeared incapable of appreciating the fact that since the last election she presides over a hung Parliament and the resultant need for active consensus building that such a situation required from day one. The Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn’s recent petulant walk out of a meeting with political leaders was also irresponsible in the extreme.
Although negotiations have been poorly conducted it is fair to say the situation has not been assisted by many politicians who have sought to undermine the process from the start.
Neither the EU nor the UK is anything like adequately prepared.
Of great concern is the fact that whilst Parliament voted to prevent a “no deal Brexit” that still does not stop such a scenario playing out given that the European Union has only agreed to extend the departure deadline until April 12. If Parliament cannot build a consensus by then and one which is acceptable to the EU the UK will likely head out of the EU with no deal. The turmoil this would cause is unimaginable and I would suggest that neither the EU nor the UK is anything like adequately prepared.
The EU has something like 40 trade agreements around the world that UK companies benefit from and thus the UK would suffer detrimental treatment if it was to leave the EU without a mechanism in place to preserve such existing trading status. “Brexiters” who have served up the mantra to the UK public that exiting on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms would be perfectly acceptable have been disingenuous in not admitting that for a significant component of the UK’s trade volume such terms are simply not as attractive. Ironically the protracted Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) negotiations in Indonesia mean that for the time being trade with Indonesia would be less impacted.
On a practical level what is becoming increasingly apparent is that Brexit is sucking the life out the UK’s efforts to develop markets outside of the EU. Our chamber’s experience on the ground in Indonesia is that government resources, activity and funding are being diluted at precisely a time when we should be doing more to expand trade and investment activity with Indonesia. On a recent trip back to the UK I was greatly alarmed to be informed by Indonesian officials that it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to engage in meaningful ministerial level discussions.
The EU cannot be immune from criticism either. The underlying reasons why many UK citizens voted to leave the EU were not dreamt up overnight. Issues such as uncontrolled immigration, stagnating wages and ever-increasing pressure on public resources had been simmering for a long time but never been met with any truly constructive discussions on how to address these concerns. Hence the sense of disillusionment with the EU apparatus.
There has also been an element of hypocrisy in the EU’s negotiation tactics. Within days of the Brexit referendum vote, the Scottish first minister appealed to the EU for a separate customs union involving Scotland but was politely and arguably understandably told this would not be possible because the constituent parts of UK had to be treated as one.
Yet, a few months later the EU was suggesting a customs border down the Irish Sea effectively cutting Northern Ireland adrift from the rest of the UK.
In business if we are faced with a problem the only way to address it is to be honest about the root causes and take the most sensible and pragmatic approach to tackle it. Hopefully bureaucrats and politicians on both sides of the Channel will have woken up to severity of the situation, cast aside their egos and take a leaf out of business by finally being more pragmatic.
The writer is the current chairman of the British Chamber of Commerce and Scotland’s trade envoy to Indonesia.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.