Brexit gives us plenty to ponder on this summer

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My article for the Edinburgh Evening News on Brexit and the summer recess. You can read the full article on the Evening News website.

As Parliament goes into recess for the summer and we all head back home to our constituencies there is lots to think about for the months ahead.

Top of that agenda is the ongoing saga of the UK leaving the European Union. It has dominated the political agenda since the referendum last year and will continue to do so for some time ahead.

Thirteen months have passed since the EU referendum and we are still no clearer as to the destination or the journey we have embarked on. I couldn’t be more frustrated and concerned as to the direction of travel.

The issue is hugely political and technical but it is fundamentally about our standards of living, opportunities for all, and how we shape the future. The current Chancellor of the Exchequer proclaimed that no-one votes to be poorer. He is right but, in my opinion, the country will be poorer.

The Office for National Statistics said just yesterday that the UK was seeing a “notable slowdown” due to Brexit. And there are significant implications for Edinburgh. What will our financial services industry look like? How will our world class universities adapt? Where will the future Edinburgh workforce come from?

These are fundamental questions, but when you dig into the detail it is mind blowing as to the consequences. Let’s just look at one small but critical example.

Last week there was a debate in the House of Commons on the EU-wide nuclear regulator, Euratom. Now, this may not seem a well-known part of the EU regulatory infrastructure but, as well as other things, it regulates the import and export of radioactive and nuclear materials.This includes medical radioisotopes used to treat cancer - materials which cannot be produced here.

Leaving Euratom could erect barriers between patients and these essential radioisotopes imported from continental producers. The Government says that we will leave Euratom, so what happens to the UK’s position?

I just can’t comprehend why the Government, when negotiating, don’t want to keep all options on the table to try to resolve these issues. They have ruled out remaining a member of the Single Market and Customs Union but this could, at the very least, provide the foundation for a transitional relationship until a full trade deal can be achieved. The Government, and some of the Opposition for that matter, wrongly claim that if you leave the EU you must leave the Single Market and Customs Union. That is simply untrue. Even if it were true, then it all comes down to political will in the end.

And where does it leave any negotiating strategy when it is clear we have an interim Prime Minister? She would appear to be safe in her position, for now, but after weeks of squabbling within the Conservative ranks, widespread discussion about the expiry date on her leadership has quietened down. 

Making predictions in politics these days is a dangerous game – who could have foreseen Brexit or Trump. There would seem to be little appetite within the Conservative Party for a leadership contest now and the frontrunners who were manoeuvering, briefing and counter-briefing a few weeks ago have all quietened down.

It remains to be seen what will happen with the myriad of issues facing the Government when Parliament returns in September, Brexit being just one of many, but I think this may be the first summer in a very long time when we don’t face the prospect of a referendum or an election . . . or will it?

Enjoy the Edinburgh Festival season and the rest of the ‘summer’.

 

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