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It’s time to rip off the Brexit band-aid

Submitted by on 29 Sep 2016 – 09:00

We put on a band-aid as a means of protection; therefore ripping off a band-aid is not easy and often makes one feel uncomfortable. However, a quick rip-off eases ouch factor. Referring to the UK’s exit from the European Union as the world biggest band-aid removal process, Jeppe Kofod MEP, Leader of the Social Democrats in the European Parliament, calls for Britain to expedite the process of leaving the European Union

It’s common knowledge that you need to act fast, while removing a band-aid. If Brexit is the world’s biggest band-aid removal process, it looks like we are in for a painfully slow process.

First of all, Prime Minister Theresa May is clearly playing for time, whilst her predecessor, David Cameron announced that the Article 50 should be activated sooner rather than later. The incumbent PM mentioned that the Article 50 would be triggered sometime around 2017. However, now the word is spreading that senior government ministers in the UK are eying the end of 2019 as the new date for exiting the European Union.

The reason, apparently being that the UK government is in no shape to actually conduct either Brexit negotiations or the plethora of trade deals that the UK has to have in place with other countries, after Brexit.

Leaving aside Britain’s Brexit start-up troubles, what can the UK expect from us? Well, as far as the outlandish promises made by the Leave campaigns, the honest answer is: not much, if anything. I want to be very clear that this has nothing to do with either malice or bruised feelings, as the Brexit-camps and anti-EU populists throughout Europe are keen to portray it.

Rather, this is due to some very basic, but tragically often forgotten principles in modern politics, namely that a deal is a deal, that agreed rules must be adhered to and that solidarity is a two-way street. The best example is Britain wanting access to the single market, without adhering to the principles of free movement.

Whilst Brexiteers promised the electorate of Britain, all the benefits of EU-membership without any obligations, the political realities of making international cooperation work in practice are far removed from the empty promises of the Leave camp.

So where does this leave both the UK and the EU?

There can and should not be any doubt about the fact that the remaining EU members are terribly sad to see the UK leave the European Union. Neither should there be any doubt that we wish the UK every success on its new path and that we will negotiate the practicalities of Brexit in an open, amicable and constructive manner.

In doing so, we – the remaining EU member states, must, of course put the concerns, needs and wishes of our own populations and countries first. That is the difference of negotiating within a formal cooperation built on solidarity, which the EU is, and on negotiating with external partners on the basis of a zero-sum relationship, which is the path that the UK has chosen.

We cannot allow the UK to enjoy all the benefits of EU-membership, without sharing in the obligations. Neither can we allow the UK access to the common market, without adhering to the same rules and regulations that govern our own access as Danes, Germans or Swedes.

Delivering on the promises of the Brexit campaign will, therefore be more than difficult, to say the least. Being painfully aware of this, I can completely understand the UK Government’s wish to play for time.

However, I sincerely doubt if this tactic of pushing the actual date of Brexit, will benefit the UK in any manner.

Whether the UK’s new arrangement with the EU will come in the form of EEA, EFTA membership, or in the form of some hitherto unseen deep and comprehensive trade and partnership agreement is far too early to say. But one thing is certain, no-one gains from the uncertainty of the present situation.

As time passes, the UK will increasingly be seen as the lame-duck country of the EU. Whilst still a formal member, actual influence will wane with time and patience with the partner who has already announced the break-up but refuses to leave will wear thin. As such, I strongly believe that the UK’s best course of action is to move quickly on activating the Article 50 so that the formal exit-negotiations can start and a new EU-UK relationship can begin in all earnestness.