This Side of the Pond – Oct. 26

By Sarah Pridgeon

Can you go back on a bad decision, or must you be stuck with the consequences? That’s a question many Brits are asking themselves this week as a think tank warns my country that going through with Brexit is likely to shatter it into pieces.

It’s been a good while since I mentioned Brexit – one could be forgiven for thinking that it’s old news, done and dusted, a thing of the past. Actually, it’s been an ongoing process for almost a year and a half, since that fateful day when just over half of Brits voted to exit the European Union and let go the hands of siblings we’ve been squabbling with for a thousand years.

It’s not that nothing has happened since the vote, just that this is a process that cannot be hurried. Quite the opposite, in fact: the UK government has been slowly but surely picking away at the ties that link us to the rest of the continent while attempting to figure out exactly how we’re going to all get along once it’s over.

Consequently, the haggling will be endless. Talks with the EU only began officially in June, one year after the vote, and the negotiating teams have been meeting face-to-face for a week of each month ever since.

Their first tasks are to agree on what rights citizens will have after the umbilical cord has been cut, as well as how much the UK will have to pay to leave and what will happen to the border separating Northern Ireland, which is part of Britain, from the rest of Ireland, which is still a member of the EU.

We’re on the fifth round of those talks right now and things seem to be going exactly as well as you’d expect in a situation that essentially represents the divorce of one nation from all the others that lie across a thin stretch of water.

We’ll be leaving the EU whether an agreement is reached or not on the deadline of March 2019. If things can’t be settled, we’ll have to figure out a formal relationship with the EU for such things as trade and security – without a deal, experts say this would be a chaotic crashing out of Europe with neither side sure of the consequences.

All those Brits living in Europe and Europeans living in Britain could suddenly lose their residency rights and the UK would lose its membership to dozens of regulatory agencies that govern daily life. With or without a deal, if the prime minister gets her way, we could also lose our place in the single market, in which goods, services, money and people move freely throughout the continent as if it was a single country rather than a rainbow of different cultures.

With this in mind, it comes as no great surprise that there are murmurings of dissent from many corners. Just a smidge under half the country didn’t want to leave the EU in the first place, and few of those who lost the vote are feeling any better about it as they watch the economy flop around like a fish in shallow waters.

Last week, an international think tank based in Paris released a report suggesting that continuing with Brexit would be apocalyptically bad for the UK economy. If we continue along the “no deal” path we’re currently treading, the OECD warned that investment in the country would seize up, the pound would disappear through the floor and the UK would see its credit rating slashed.

The report made headlines instantly, largely because the OECD (the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development) is a highly respected and influential group that represents countries from all across the world. The U.S., naturally, is one of the 35 members of this organization, which has been pondering away since 1960 about how to stimulate economic progress and world trade.

The report claims that prices will keep rising, unlike salaries, and living standards will continue to fall. Inflation will continue to rise and the economy will remain in its stagnant state. In total, the OECD predicts that following through with Brexit in its current state would knock $52 billion off Britain’s economic growth in 2019 alone.

None of which sounds like a lot of fun to anyone who just wants to hop off a train they didn’t spend a fortune to board and buy a loaf of bread and some teabags that don’t wipe their bank balance clean in one shot. Anyone who was already lamenting the idea of needing a passport for their next day trip to Calais was probably hyperventilating by the middle of last week.

Nonsense! said the UK Treasury when it was handed the report, suggesting that it is not overly keen on the idea of backtracking Brexit. The Chancellor of the Exchequer pointed out that the report was based on no deal being reached, which isn’t what we’re aiming for, and the government reiterated that Brexit is definitely, absolutely happening.

Those Brits who are still in denial that leaving Europe is a thing we’re planning to do are probably hoping the report will make a difference, but in all honesty I doubt that it will. In the meantime, we still have a year and a half of back-and-forthing to entertain us before the UK stands on its lonesome once again – let’s hope we can all still afford some decent shoes.