Brexit was never a thing. It wasn't when David Cameron put it to a vote. It wasn't when Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson campaigned for it. It wasn't when Theresa May tried in vain to implement it. Is it now? Yes and No. Boris Johnson's final Brexit plan is still not Brexit but a promise of Brexit in the future. The European Union has 10 days to review Johnson's plan and should they accept it the U.K. will "exit" the European Union on Oct. 31. What does Brexit currently look like and what happens if the EU rejects the latest proposal?
The current Brexit proposal says that the EU and the U.K. have until 2021 to iron out how the U.K. will actually divorce from the EU. The two are so intertwined across dozens of agencies and regulations that I don't see a way for them to actually separate. For the sake of argument, let's say that indeed the U.K. and EU figure out a way to separate, what happens? Great Britain does separate from the EU while leaving Northern Ireland in a weird no-man's land.
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) had pressured its coalition partner, the Conservatives, and its leader Theresa May, into adopting the "backstop," a measure to avoid a land border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. It essentially said that should no final status agreement come about between the EU and the U.K. on Brexit, that there wouldn't be a hard border between the two regions. Now Boris Johnson has scrapped the backstop in favor of another modified backstop.
The new backstop says that after 2021, Northern Ireland will continue to abide by EU regulations and allow for free movement. This means there won't be any need for a hard border. But this also means that there needs to be a hard border between the island of Great Britain and the Emerald Isle. Why? Well, goods can't travel between the two because the Irelands have different regulations. Also, the Irelands have a different visa scheme which would mean anyone with an Irish visa could technically visit the U.K. (Northern Ireland) without access to the rest of the U.K. unless the U.K. enters into a new agreement with the Republic of Ireland.
In this way, Boris Johnson is borrowing a page from China's one country/two systems policy. The two parts of the U.K. will have different customs, visa, and immigration regulations while simultaneously allowing citizens of both the U.K. and Ireland to travel between the two islands without any hard border. This may sound great on paper but the implementation of this plan will be very difficult if not impossible.
What if the EU rejects the U.K.'s plan? This is what I believe the EU will actually do if only to make an example out of the U.K. and embarrass Boris Johnson. Should they reject Johnson's proposal, the prime minister would potentially be bound by the House of Commons legislation which forbids a "no-deal" Brexit on Oct. 31 and implement a three-month extension. Unless Johnson can successfully argue that the House of Commons legislation is not binding and that indeed he can go forward with a no-deal Brexit, everything is delayed until January and we're back to square one.
Brexit fatigue has set in undoubtedly in the U.K., if Brussels and its business leaders are as fatigued, there's an outside chance this new "non-Brexit Brexit" will take place by Halloween.
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