President of European Council Donald Tusk received a communication from Prime Minister Theresa May on March 29 notifying Great Britain's divorce from the European Union (EU) by invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. The process of exit came after Britain had relations with the Union for 44 years. In Westminster Abbey, she said, "We fulfilled wishes of the people. We are leaving the EU and there is no turning back. Now is the time to be united for the best deal," she added. The British Prime Minister reiterated her commitment to slash the number of immigrants.
The process of formal separation from the EU will take approximately two years. On the other hand, the future of the UK is hanging in the balance if referendum is held successfully in Scotland seeking its separation from Britain. In spite of objection by Theresa May, the parliament in Scotland gave green signal for holding the referendum. Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon took the first formal step in favour of the second referendum. The Scots in fact are in favour of remaining with the EU but not divorcing itself from the UK. In 2014, Scots voted for retaining its alliance with Great Britain through the first referendum. Fifty-four per cent of votes went in favour of the UK while 46 per cent against.
There is a forecast that Britain would face a severe shortage of workforce in restaurants, factories and hospitals after its departure from the EU. The number of workers from EU member-states in Britain has already dropped by 50,000 to 2.3 million following the referendum to quit the EU in 2014. Workers from poorer countries like Romania and Bulgaria of the European Union make up a large chunk of low-skilled workforce in Britain. When the UK will leave the EU by 2019, workers from these countries would have to leave the country. Hotels, restaurants and bars are already struggling to hire manpower from other EU countries but could not succeed as a result of a weakened pound. The government has now focussed more on training of Britons instead of hiring foreign workers. Hospitals will face a serious problem in particular. A recent poll by the British Medical Association indicates that 40 per cent of Europe-trained doctors could leave the UK because they feel insecure following the referendum, otherwise called the Brexit vote. The poll indicated that hospitals would be deprived of 12,000 doctors. That will have a devastating effect on healthcare in the UK.
A large volume of trade has been transacted between the UK and the EU. Britain's most important trading partners are Germany, the Netherlands, France and Norway. Exports from the UK to these countries amounted to $6 billion plus while imports from these countries stood at $ 10 billion plus. This means trade is in favour of the four EU countries. The British government now has expressed its willingness to have a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU. Although the British parliament wants to frame its own laws in dealing with the comprehensive free trade agreement, businesses in the EU have declared their resistance. Possibly, the UK will have to follow Canadian model with the EU on trade agreement. The model abolishes all tariffs on goods. It is indeed a positive blueprint for the UK.
Great Britain is likely to be split apart if Scotland succeeds in holding the second referendum as its First Minister declared that the referendum on Scottish independence is 'highly likely, given that Scotland voted to remain in the EU'. Thus people from Scotland and Northern Ireland overwhelmingly voted to remain with the EU. Peace settlement over decades-long conflict in Northern Ireland ended because the EU had played a key role in resolving it, apart from giving funds which helped pave the way for several projects in order to improve the lot of cross-communities and economic development. The EU Commission and the European Parliament continue to remain engaged with main political players in Northern Ireland to maintain peace on track. If both Scotland and Northern Ireland become independent, Britain will be a less powerful nation on earth. The proverb that the sun never sets on the British Empire will soon become a myth. It had once occupied lands from America to South Africa and to India in Asia. Now Britain would be treated as the powerless country in the world.
On the other hand, relations between the EU and the US under leadership of President Donald Trump remain uncertain. A spokesperson of the White House called the President 'a leader in Brexit effort' while EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is on record as having said that possibly Trump does not mean an end of the EU following Brexit even if he would have liked the outcome.
The departure of Britain from the EU takes place against the backdrop of celebration of 60 years of the Treaty of Rome in Rome on March 25 this year for establishing the European Economic Commission. This finally led to formation of the EU while the Treaty of Lisbon signed by member-states amending the Treaty of the European Union established the European community.
The writer is a retired Bangladeshi diplomat. firstname.lastname@example.org