Brexit: What is in it for us?
Nations go through momentous phases in the course of national planning and development. Those moments could be fortuitous for development or ill-fated. It is formal that the United Kingdom has left the European Union (EU). The tough walk of the UK to exit from the EU came to a definitive end on January 31. It is not all over: there are still some separation rituals to be concluded by the end of the year. In other words, there is an 11-month transition phase that the UK would go through. The content of the transition period includes the application of EU rules with the customs union and the single market translating into the free movement of people, goods and services. There is also the prevalence of transnational jurisdiction of the EU court over the UK except the non-representation of the UK in the decision infrastructure of the EU.
Nevertheless, Prime Minister Boris Johnson acknowledged the sovereignty gain when he enthused that the exit was the “dawn of a new era” paving way for “real national renewal” after 47 years of EU membership. But after the transition, it is back to the fundamentals of exercising sovereignty without the impingement of EU rules. UK citizens will no longer be EU citizens and the over 1.3 million of them will have to apply for residence status. Conversely, EU plans a settlement scheme for its over 3.5 million citizens in the UK; immigration rules are expected to change for both citizens.
For UK citizens visiting the EU will qualify for a visa waiver at a cost, which allows them for a stay up to 90 days at a time, a bit like the ECOWAS immigration regime. Above all, the UK will lose its current positive trade relations with the EU. At present, the EU is the largest trading partner of the UK accounting for about 44% of the UK’s goods and services exports and 53% of the UK’s imports as at 2015. This trade advantage would be lost to the Brexit gamble. Additional liability is the defrayment of the so-called divorce bill of £39 billion. Also, it would have to worry over how to ensure a smooth trade between EU member Ireland and the proximate Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK with a “no-deal Brexit” because it has consequences. One is higher food prices and constrained supply of medicines and other goods. Two, trade relations with the EU will be underpinned by tariffs.
Would the EU miss Britain? Of immediate impact will be the loss of the UK’s financial contribution put at an average of £7.8 billion per annum. UK’s self-determination may yet set a future path of dismemberment of EU despite the quest to join the body by some eastern and central European countries. Indeed, there is a new wave of nationalism across Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa that is yet to ebb. For sure, UK would miss EU and the benefits that come with full membership. To hedge against the foreseeable consequences, UK has been forthcoming in building a new network of partnership. Even before PM Johnson took the reins of power, Theresa May did a sweeping tour of core sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya to renew ties of trade relations. Recently, Johnson convened the first ever United Kingdom-African Investment Summit that he explained was “a new start in our business partnership with Africa.” The Department of International Trade (DIT) and Department for International Development (DIFD) stated that the meeting was a platform for more handshakes across tables and sealing of multibillion pound deals for the mutual benefit of both sides. The significance of the summit was further underlined by both DIT and DFID via their pre-summit disclosures. DIT said that deals of about £6.5 billion had already been signed between British businesses and a cluster of African countries for mutual benefits, especially in creating jobs and enhancing growth.
Programmes for the continent in those areas that would “boost clean energy supplies, digital networks, jobs and business opportunities for women, as well as facilitate steps aimed at improving trade infrastructure.” In relation to Nigeria, experts doubt the possible impact due to period of unpredictability stalking the Brexit.
The pertinent question is: will this partnership run along the old neo-colonial lines? Countries have the opportunity to shape a new relationship. Given the background of Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), it would be good for African countries to have some minimum common criteria of engagement with the UK rather than bilateral gains negotiated on grounds of weakness given the negative sovereignty of many African countries. Besides, UK does have alternatives in its special trans-Atlantic relations with the United States whose president has lately indicated what he called massive trade deals with UK.
Whatever, the permutation and shifting alliances, we believe that there is an opportunity in Brexit for African countries to renegotiate their economic relations with the UK long overshadowed by former colonial relations. This comes with responsibility, namely the secondary sector should improve the quality and standard of commodity production to be competitive in the international market. Unfortunately, our leaders have for years failed to migrate from this rhetoric to action. All told, our development planners should embrace Brexit as an opportunity rather than a challenge at this time.
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