Keep Calm and Brexit On

If the way the Brexit negotiations are handled is not one of the best examples of Murphy’s laws, then what is?

If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.” Yesterday, this “something” manifested in the form of Arlene Foster from the Democratic Unionist Party.

If anything can go wrong, it will,” – Theresa May receives a phone call from Ms Foster…

At the most inopportune time,”  – ..just when she is finalising the Brexit deal with Jean-Claude Juncker.

It will be all your fault, and everyone will know it,” – Ms Foster told Ms May and the media that the situation “could have been dealt with differently.”

And of course, “If there is a possibility of several things going wrong…”. Yes, you guessed it right, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong OR they will all go wrong at the same time. It seems that Theresa May’s motherland has chosen the latter option.

As if the Brexit talks weren’t hard enough, pun intended, Ms May also faces troubles at home.

Trials and Tribulations

First, just before her trip to Brussels, all four members of the board of the Social Mobility Commission decided to quit. Alan Milburn, the former Labour minister who headed the Commission, published his letter of resignation, addressed to the Prime Minister, where he lamented the inability of the British government to focus on anything but Brexit. The government, he said, manifested its will to heal social divisions in name only. “In the end what counts in politics is not what you talk about, it is what you do,” – he commented. “What is needed is really clear leadership to translate perfectly good words into actions that will make a difference.” Although he didn’t doubt Ms May’s personal belief in social justice, he saw “little evidence of that being translated into meaningful action.”

However, Mr Milbourne said he was deeply proud of the work accomplished by the board throughout the years, and also of those in civil society who embraced the social mobility agenda. It was their commitment that inspired him to found a new Social Mobility Institute. It will be independent of the government and political parties and will promote “a fairer, more open, more mobile society in Britain.”

Secondly, Scotland and Wales were quite upset that Northern Ireland became the favourite child with special needs. “If one part of the UK is granted continued participation in the Single Market & Customs Union, then we fully expect to be made the same offer,” – said the First Minister of Wales, Carwyn Jones. Nicola Sturgeon, the First Minister of Scotland, was not far behind: “If Northern Ireland is to effectively stay within the single market, it becomes even more vital that Scotland does so too.” Well. Maybe, if you are very good until Christmas…

Meanwhile, the British public is in a full rally mode. The hardline Brexiteers demand that the Prime Minister walks out of the talks altogether, while the Remainers advocate for an Exit from Brexit. Or at least for a soft Brexit, thus urging Theresa May to keep the entire United Kingdom inside the Single Market and the Customs Union. That, of course, would solve a lot of problems, also those related to the Irish border and free movement of the EU nationals.

More on yesterday’s debacle

The British business sector too suffers from the uncertainty.

The Confederation for British Industry wants a speedy and good Brexit. The CBI chief economist said, “it’s time to put people and prosperity above political point scoring.” Any further delay or failure in the Brexit negotiations means sluggish to no growth for the business. Despite the overall positive growth forecasts for the Eurozone, an urgent UK-EU divorce settlement is needed. “The global economy is firing on all cylinders” but  “for firms to really plan and capitalise on these opportunities over the longer-term, urgent clarity is needed on the UK’s new relationship with the EU.” After the Monday fiasco, the pound already plunged to its lowest in three weeks against the dollar. The longer the UK status is left in limbo, the more blows will Brexit deliver to the British economy.

Unhealthy consequences of Brexit

The British business industry is not the only one to hold its breath, the health sector also looks forward to hearing the definite Brexit conditions.

Today, an evidence session of the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee is supposed to examine all possible outcomes of the Brexit negotiations, and what they would mean for the pharmaceutical industry. Probably nothing good.

The Committee already published written statements from 19 organisations, including the Association of British Healthcare Industries and the British Medical Association (BMA). According to this evidence, after Brexit, the UK will become a less desirable place for investment, research and development in the healthcare sector.

The BMA EU public affairs manager says Brexit will negatively affect the health services in the UK and in the neighbouring countries.

For instance, the future of the European Health Insurance Card is unclear. The card guarantees necessary healthcare in the public system of any EU country or Switzerland. Around 27m people in the UK have it, as do 190,000 British expats living in the EU countries. After Brexit, the government will have to replace it with an equivalent cross-border care system. The cost and the nature of the new system are still unsettled.

Leaving the EU means leaving the Euratom (Davis David crossed his heart and hoped to die!), and that is a great source of worry for NHS oncologists and radiologists. The UK heavily depends on EU medical equipment manufacturers, and if supplies of radioactive materials used in treatments and scans are disrupted, millions of people will be left with no vital medical treatments.

Over 60,000 European-qualified doctors and medical staff are currently working in the UK, a further 90,000 – in adult social care. As a EU-member, the UK benefits from mutual recognition of professional qualifications and free movement. What kind of red tape will they have to face to continue living and practising medicine in the UK? How will they have to prove their qualifications?

This Home Office statement was supposed to reassure the public concerned. “EU citizens who have made their lives in the UK have made a huge contribution to our country and we want them to stay.” However, it’s hard to believe that when more and more permanent residency applications get refused. Some of those who apply have been working and living in the UK for years, even decades. They have spouses and children here, and yet, they are being politely asked to “make preparations to leave” the country. The grounds for refusal, like “the inability to prove self-sufficiency”, are often vague and/or perfunctory. Just as the reassurances are.

Smile and wave, boys, smile and wave!

However, hope dies last, as they say, and it is certainly true for David Davis. Although to be fair, there is a slim chance that the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union will be deported or sacked as a foreign nurse in case of a hard Brexit. Still, one starts to wonder – where does this fellow get such a positive attitude from?

For instance, would you associate any of these statements with a prompt and happy Brexit resolution?

Maybe the adamant “We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically” by Arlene Foster?

Or the firm “I don’t see any reason to change the text (of the agreement reached with the UK)” by Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach?

Or is it the tired and resigned “It was not possible to reach an agreement” by Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission?

One would need to possess a bottomless… let’s call it optimism, to see these declarations in a positive light. Apparently, against all odds, to David Davis, all of the above sounded like “progress has been made!”. Which is what he announced to the British House of Commons today. His next statement, “We’ve not yet reached the final conclusion”, was met with boisterous laughter from the MP’s. Or maybe it was hysterics, who knows. This response was even more cheerful than the reaction of the MP’s in September, when Mr Davis, in all honesty, declared that “nobody said it was going to be simple or easy.” Evidently, optimism does require some memory loss. Anyway, bright future as a standup comedian lies ahead Mr Davis if he ever wants to quit the political arena. After all, his speeches are always such a roaring success. Literally.

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Natalia Ilina
Natalia Ilina

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