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Editorial: Brexit Talks Reach Important Stage

THE likely wide-ranging repercussions of Britain’s departure from the European Union make Brexit an issue of continuing concern not only in Europe itself but in many other parts of the world as well.

With only a small working majority, and in the face of controversy and domestic opposition on the part of some to its Brexit policies, there can be no guarantee that Prime Minister Theresa May’s government will be able to stick to the timing of the nation’s agreed departure in March, 2019. But, if Brexit is achieved, one undoubted effect will be a strengthening of Britain’s ties to the Commonwealth, and this should work to the benefit of smaller countries like The Bahamas.

Although the Brexit negotiations to agree detailed terms for leaving the bloc seem to have been deadlocked so far, they may now have reached a pivotal stage.

It is clear that three main issues remain to be resolved before moving on to discussion of a trade agreement between a post-Brexit UK outside the EU and the 27 remaining member states – a so-called divorce bill or financial settlement, the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa, and the arrangements for the border between Northern Ireland as part of the UK and the Republic of Ireland as an EU member state.

It appears that negotiations about all three have advanced recently to the point that an EU summit in December will decide whether “sufficient progress” has been made in order to move on to trade talks. The terms of any new trade agreement will be of prime importance in Britain’s future relationship with the EU – some 43 per cent of the UK’s exports go to EU countries, but it has a trade deficit with the bloc which therefore has a major interest in continuing to maintain full and free access to the UK market.

As regards a financial agreement, Britain has stated its commitment to meet its obligations arising from its EU membership, not least because it wants to keep on good terms with the remaining members after Brexit and to co-operate fully across-the-board. However, the UK is the second largest contributor to the EU budget and certain demands for extended payments have apparently been resisted by UK negotiators as being excessive. Nonetheless, it seems that Mrs May has reached an agreement in principle with Brussels about the size of the divorce settlement without confirming exact figures. She has said, however, that this will be contingent on securing a good deal on future trade – and both sides have made it clear that “nothing is agreed until everything is agreed”.

While Brexit is taking centre stage, the future of the EU itself is uncertain with increasing opposition amongst member states like Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic, particularly in relation to matters like enforced immigration quotas. Another concern is the possible effect of political instability in Germany on the EU following Chancellor Merkel’s difficulty in forming a new coalition after her Party’s relatively poor showing in the federal elections in September.

Supporters of Brexit argue that, having earlier declined to join the euro single currency or the Schengen agreement to remove borders in Europe, this is the time for Britain to quit the EU as Brussels forges ahead towards greater political and economic union and creation of a federal state.

Despite the continuing controversy and doubts, it is now beginning to look inevitable that Britain will leave the EU. But it remains to be seen whether hopes will be realised of a national resurgence when the nation becomes truly independent once more – and, freed from what many regard as the shackles of excessive EU interference in the form of directives and regulations, it is able to make its own laws again that are justiciable in its own courts, control its own borders and, crucially, make its own trade agreements with the rest of the world. At this juncture, however, few observers dare look beyond the possibility of Britain being able first to negotiate a satisfactory bilateral trade deal with the EU.

With public opinion in the UK about Brexit still divided, there are genuine fears about the nation’s future outside the bloc after more than forty years as a member. Even though Britain has the fifth largest economy in the world and in so many respects is a big hitter on the international stage, some people see the future as frighteningly bleak and threatening. But others welcome the prospect of new opportunities that herald an exciting fresh start leading to greater prosperity and influence in keeping with the nation’s history as well as its potential.

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