On October 31, 2019, the Valdai Discussion Club hosted an expert discussion, devoted to the prospects for Britain's exit from the EU. It was the date that Boris Johnson named as a deadline when he took the prime minister's chair in June 2019. But now, at the insistence of the British parliament, he has been forced to agree to ask the European Commission to grant another delay – now the UK has until the end of January. Therefore, problems with Brexit continue with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Stuart Lawson of Ernst & Young, a member of the board of directors of the Russian-British Chamber of Commerce and head of the UK Business Centre in Moscow, spoke in his speech about the atmosphere of confusion surrounding the current events and described them from a business point of view. “The Brexit theme has been in newspaper editorials since 2016, and one could even expect that a decision to exit the EU may never be reached – we’ve observed obscurantism, indecision, and numbness,” he said. “It seems to me that exit without a deal is a disaster. Fortunately, although this could happen, it hasn’t happened, the situation improved. The current deal is the best you could think of today, and it was agreed upon at the last moment. This topic has already been going on for two prime ministers’ terms, and we ask ourselves what will happen under the present prime minister. This is just a prologue, not even the first chapter of the book, and we still have a lot to do.”
As for the economic consequences of the British exit from the EU, they have two sides. On the one hand, Brexit will free the country from outside control, which will allow it to set standards with respect to agriculture, fisheries and bilateral trade. On the other hand, as the speaker noted, “in a situation of trade wars, things will not go so smoothly. Not all trade agreements can exist after Brexit, because the business climate will change dramatically. Business can experience a lot of things, but it suffers from confusion when it is impossible to make plans. We live in a world of uncertainty, and making plans can be dangerous. In this situation, we’ve seen that investment, business, and other areas will suffer from this endless suspense in economics and politics.”
Alexander Kramarenko, Director for Development of the Russian Council on Foreign Affairs, said that the exit from the EU can happen for the UK more easily, because it did not take roots in the EU and even did not participate fully in it: Britain had a discount on its contribution to the EU regular budget, it did not participate in the Schengen system and it kept its own currency. The “fatal strategy” of Boris Johnson, which led him ultimately to victory, was that he could inflate the stakes endlessly, the speaker said. “That’s why he managed to make the European Commission revise the agreement with Theresa May, which he called ‘the vassal deal’.”
“It seems to me, that nothing extreme has happened in the UK. Extreme were the uncertainty and inability of part of the elite to accept the democratic choices made in the referendum. Now there is a significant degree of confidence that nevertheless Brexit will really take place - and it may be a New Year's gift,” Kramarenko concluded. However, now the citizens of the country and external observers just have to wait, because Brexit’s prospects will only be decided after the elections on December 12. Whether chaos persists after them or some kind of clarity emerges is still unclear.