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Brexit plus one

The week after the clamour surrounding Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50 has been depressing in lots of ways for different people. The implications of Brexit for Gibraltar hit the headlines with undiplomatic hints from Michael Howard that we would go to war with Spain to protect Gibraltar as we did to defend the Falklands from Argentina. It was a sad irony that war with a European neighbour should be suggested within days of the Brexit trigger, given that the original vision for the EU was to prevent such wars that had killed 44 million Europeans in the 20thcentury.

Hints that the negotiations may not go the way the voters want have already emerged. Ending free movement from the EU was one of the core issues driving the Brexit campaign. Those who wanted this will have been dismayed by the PM’s hints that free movement of people from the EU will continue for years in the “Implementation phase” after Brexit. The house building industry also came out this week to warn of a post-Brexit recruitment crisis. According to the Office of National Statistics 200,000 of the 2.3 million construction workers are from the EU and it is not clear yet how easy it will be for house builders to rely on those workers. They seem to be needed because the number of young British apprentices in the construction sector has plummeted in recent years. The Government’s plans for a million new homes by 2020 are under threat if the EU workers are shut out.

Another fly in the ointment seems to be the potential costs of the divorce. EU leaders and the European Parliament insist that these costs must be agreed before talks about trade can begin.  Sums as large as 50 or 60 billion euros have been mentioned in Brussels, to pay for commitments made whilst we have been a member. These include the pensions of EU personnel as well as the various budgets and funding provisions for which our representatives voted during the current budget period. However, an ICM poll published on Monday revealed that 46% of UK voters would find a £3billion pay-out unacceptable, 64% would oppose a £10 billion sum and 70% would be against £20 billion.

The UK Independence party, which played a major role in fermenting opposition to our EU membership, does not seem to be prospering in the aftermath of last week’s decision. Douglas Carswell, their only MP resigned from the party two days before Article 50 was triggered and now his ally Mark Reckless, their second MP until 2015, left the party on Thursday. Aaron Banks, UKIPs principal funder has also been suspended from party membership for attacks on Paul Nuttall the party leader. Polls this week forecast the party will lose up to 100 seats in the forthcoming local elections, many of them going to the Liberal Democrats, the most anti-Brexit party in the country.

The most sensible response to all this came from Alistair Burt MP, the former Foreign Office Minister, writing in Conservative Voice. He voted Remain but accepts the voter’s decision. He admits “Europe didn’t get it all right”. He also recognises his generation of politicians failed to make a compelling case for our continued membership. He concludes “We never really understood what the EU meant to those whose experiences of the last century were different to ours”.  He is right and as a Christian he will surely urge us to pray for grace to work well with Europe after Brexit.

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