Predicting the future is a tricky business at the best of times. When millions of lives depend on the outcome, it is small wonder that so much attention and time is being given to Brexit. The short term fallout is already being felt in Europe and the UK as citizens seek to shore up their own futures. There are Europeans leaving the UK, UK citizens leaving the UK, and others hoping to stay and ride out the storm wherever they are. Wherever you fall on the Brexit debate, whether you think it is a good idea, a bad one, or merely that it is inconsequential, there is one thing that is frustrating everyone - what it actually means.
Nothing of any substance has been decided or agreed upon, and until the ink has dried on the final divorce settlement no one knows the ‘agreement’ will look like, leaving everyone involved in a state of uncertainty. From the ones who voted in favour of leaving, to those who will feel its impact on the other side of Europe, everyone understands that the consequences of losing one of the world’s largest economies from a trading bloc will be felt by everyone in one way or another.
So much has changed since Brexit entered the conversation space that it is impossible to predict what will happen after Brexit, but there may be some clues. For the UK, one of the priorities will be relevance. In a world where mutual agreements on intelligence and defence are important, the UK will still have something to contribute. However, as Politico makes clear, “The fundamental problem for the UK is that beyond its military power [...] there’s not much that can be included in bilateral discussions that EU countries have not contracted out to Brussels.”
Another priority will be the workforce and skills. When a substantial number of workers travel from Europe to the UK to work seasonally to meet the UK’s food demands, access to those workers will become a priority. According to the Confederation of British Industry, the National Farmers’ Union estimate “that 99 percent of seasonal labour in UK agriculture is provided by EU workers.”, while “20 percent of firms in Build UK’s State of Trade 2017 report claimed labour shortages”. If this is the picture before Brexit then the outlook does not look good for anyone. The seasonal labour force will have to look for work elsewhere, and few places within the EU offer the right kind of balance between a strong currency that is not the Euro and a huge demand for work.
Loss of talent
One of the biggest impacts the UK will feel will be the so-called “Brain Drain” of talent leaving the UK or not going there to work and study in the first place. According to the Guardian “universities fear discoveries and research are at risk because of a drop in applications from bright EU PhD candidates”. In fact, Andrew Timming of the University of Western Australia’s business school commented: “Does Brexit represent a recruitment opportunity? Absolutely. [...] Many PhD studentships are funded from European sources and this tap is now being turned off.” The UK’s education system and its reputation abroad have long been major attractions to foreign talent, but with the atmosphere and the general Brexit rhetoric becoming increasingly hostile to foreigners, it is no wonder that fewer people are interested in moving there to study.
A question of funding
The question of European funding is a crucial one at all levels of the debate. The pro-Brexit contingent feel that the amount that is paid into the EU far outweighs what the UK receives in return. However, there is a genuine fear among the Brexit sceptics that this money will not be redistributed in the same way when it is no longer being paid into the EU coffers. The question of whether the UK government will prioritise the same areas as the EU remains to be answered.
Another major concern for the future revolves around job security in the UK and beyond. According to the Independent, the Japanese car giants Nissan, Honda, Toyota and Mitsubishi established themselves in the UK “partly to secure access to the European single market”. Companies like Airbus, who provide around 15,000 jobs across the UK, are considering moving overseas amid fears that their business will become “uncompetitive”. Katherine Bennett, senior vice-president for Airbus UK, recently told the Guardian that “Our key preference is for the UK to remain a home nation for Airbus. But we really need the conditions for us to be effective.”
A monumental impact
The problem is that there is a real possibility that the UK’s ability to strike a strong deal that appeases everyone will fail, and this will have a monumental impact on UK and EU citizens alike. The New Statesman has been quick to point out that “Brexit marks the culmination of half a century of civil war within the [Conservative] party over Europe.”. This could mean disaster for everyone, not least of all the people who actually voted for it. One major anxiety is that the Brexit that was desired and the Brexit that will be delivered are two totally different things. In the case of the Conservative Party the ideologies and priorities within the party do not match. Some are in favour of making things easier by keeping many EU policies the same or similar. Others see Brexit as an opportunity to forge new alliances and write totally new rules.
The likelihood of either side getting exactly what they want is slim, which rather begs the question of whether or not, in the long run, the whole ordeal will have been worth it.
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