by SC Staff Writer Jan Holly
The United Kingdom’s looming separation from the European Union, aka Brexit, made for vigorous discussion at Current Events, Feb. 18 at the Phillips Gallery. In introducing the topic, moderator Paul Naylor candidly admitted that anything he said “will be wrong by lunch.”
Although calling himself an adherent to “the idea” of the European Union, Naylor issued a caveat to his support. “I am critical of the currency and of the bureaucracy in Brussels. Now [the UK] is in a very bad place indeed,” he said.
Naylor described the Brexit agreement as “a legally binding document, over 500 pages long. It concerns only departure, not future trade relationships,” he said. “The U.K. will leave the E.U., but will continue trading with the Union on current terms until 2020, when they expect a trade deal.”
Naylor reported that, according to the separation agreement, the U.K. will incur a financial obligation of £39 billion. “There is also a section on E.U. citizens’ rights, allowing those currently residing in the U.K. to remain and maintain benefits,” he said. “The same privilege exists for British citizens living in the E.U. This agreement ends in Dec. 2020.”
Naylor also pointed to the ironies infused into the complex web of relationships existing among European Union countries. “By European Union law, an airline that is majority owned by non-E.U. citizens cannot fly between two E.U. cities. Majority ownership in Iberia Airlines is British, so, by law, Iberia cannot fly between Madrid and Barcelona,” he said, adding, “Spain will ignore this law.”
Naylor warned that a no-deal Brexit looms, because “according to law, the U.K. must leave the European Union on March 29.” Changing the current scenario requires “a change in law, which needs to go through both houses of Parliament and be signed by queen. There is not enough time,” he said.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, Naylor warned of unintended economic hardships on a number of European fronts. “Holland faces a $10 billion decline in trade with no deal. Germany will lose 100,000 jobs, and in France 50,000 jobs will be lost,” he said, adding that a no-deal Brexit “will effectively stop trading in automobiles between the U.K. and the E.U.”
Tico Moreno remarked that Switzerland and Norway “have a beautiful relationship with the European Union. Capital flows. They have their own immigration [policies]. It would be a great idea for the Brits,” he said.
Sydney Picker took an opposing position to Moreno’s. “Swiss borders are open. They have consented to free movement of people to and from the European Union. They have free movement of goods,” he said. “They do not have an independent trade policy. They accept what the Brexiteers do not want.”
Naylor laid blame for the current crisis on former prime minister David Cameron, who called for the referendum, and German chancellor Angela Merkel, “who did her level best to belittle Cameron at every opportunity,” he said, adding, “If they had found a solution to the Syrian refugee crisis, the referendum would have gone the other way.”
Anne Yarnall queried Naylor about Russian meddling. “You didn’t mention Putin. Some experts think he was interfering, and Russian intelligence was interfering [in the referendum] with social media,” she said.
Naylor concurred, in part, with Yarnall. “Russian trolls, and social media, didn’t help, but that was not the main thing,” he said.
Steve Overbeck remarked on finality of the referendum. “[The Brexit referendum] was won by a slim majority, but the numbers are the numbers. The people have spoken,” he said.
Acknowledging the accuracy of Overbeck’s statement, Naylor described Cameron’s call for a referendum as an error in judgement. “I think a mistake was made, and politicians should say so. The biggest [mistake] was calling a referendum on something that the public knew nothing about—and [about which they] couldn’t make an informed decision,” he said.
Near the end of the discussion, an attendee called the Brexit separation “a very complicated system, with a lot of moving parts. The outcome is unpredictable, by definition,” he said. “No one knows what will happen.”
Current Events meets 10 a.m. Mondays in BIG ARTS’s Phillips Gallery. Hyde Tucker moderates the next session, on Feb. 25. Islanders are invited to join the discussion. Admission is $3.