Mon | Jul 23, 2018

Decision to leave EU brings uncertainty

Published:Thursday | September 15, 2016 | 12:06 AM



Since the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May has said it again and again: "Brexit means Brexit."

Despite the mantra, though, it's far from clear what a British exit from the bloc will look like. Almost three months after the vote, Britons and Europeans still don't know when the departure will happen or how it will affect their work, travel, pocketbooks and prospects.

"There are lots of players, a lack of clarity — we don't (even) have an agreed process," said Simon Usherwood, a reader in politics at the University of Surrey. "It's a sorry state of affairs."

For now, Britain remains a member of the bloc, though an increasingly detached one, as the other 27 countries start to move on. EU leaders meet tomorrow in Slovakia — without the UK — to try to steer a way past challenges including violent extremism, the refugee crisis and economic woes.

EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker acknowledged Wednesday that Britain's departure was a blow.

"The world is getting bigger. And we are getting smaller," he said. But he insisted "the European project continues," and urged the UK to make its formal request to leave as quickly as possible.

However, Britain controls when divorce proceedings will begin — and it's in no hurry. May has said she won't invoke Article 50 of the EU constitution, the trigger for the exit process, until sometime in 2017. Negotiations are then supposed to take two years, but could conceivably be extended.

The thorniest issue in divorce talks will likely be Britain's desire to limit immigration from other EU nations while retaining access to the bloc's single market of 500 million people.

EU officials say that's impossible. In a speech to the European Parliament yesterday, European Commission President Juncker said "the free movement of workers is as much a common European value as our fight against discrimination and racism."

That apparent impasse means uncertainty for some 3 million EU citizens in Britain and more than one million British nationals in other EU countries.

Last week, Home Secretary Amber Rudd was grilled by lawmakers about what Brexit would mean for work and travel. Will Britons need to apply online and pay a fee to go on vacation in Europe? Maybe, she said. Will EU citizens need work permits to take jobs in Britain? Possibly.

Will any EU citizens who live in Britain now have to leave? The government won't answer that either.

Ministers' vague insistence that everything will work out fine frustrates British opponents of leaving the EU.