Welcome to the BEERG Brexit Blog. Here you will find my personal thoughts and observations not just on how Brexit will negatively impact the business sector in the UK, Ireland and across Europe, but how it will change the business, political and economic landscape for decades to come.
I am the founder and Executive Director of BEERG, a network of HR professionals working across Europe. All blogposts here are written by me, Tom Hayes, unless stated otherwise. Feel free to read, share and comment…
Because it is the last it is longer than usual. A long goodbye if you will. Over the past 5 years I have written 130 of them, following the twists and turns of the Brexit saga, as various UK actors came and went upon the stage, generally full of sound and fury, but often signifying little. My little offerings were nothing compared to those of Chris Grey or Tony Connelly but people seemed to like them, for all their shortcomings.
Brexit and Borders
For all the twists and turns, for all the complications, the story of Brexit is a simple story of the UK trying to have its cake and eat it, of trying to have all the benefits of access to the internal European market with none of the obligations. This it has singularly failed to achieve. For the first time since WWII a western European country has decided to rebuild business, trade and travel borders between itself and its single biggest export market in the name of a reasserted national sovereignty.
The extent to which these borders have been rebuilt has been hidden from full view by Covid and the severe restrictions on international travel. But as the tide of Covid recedes, the nakedness of the new restrictions will quickly become clear. Landing at an EU airport British travellers will no longer be in the fast-track “EU citizens” queue and will need their passports to be valid for a further six months.
They may also be asked to show proof of health insurance and the financial means to cover their stay. It will become increasingly difficult to organise last-minute business trips, on which a great deal of services exports depend. Queueing always takes time, eats into your holiday, adds costs to your business trip.
Over the past week I have been organising a webinar for BEERG members on the proposed EU Directive on gender pay transparency. The proposed Directive aims
“…to strengthen the application of the principle of equal pay for equal work or work of equal value between men and women through pay transparency and enforcement mechanisms”. (See the EU proposal here)
While writing the webinar announcement, I noted that:
“this would be the first EU employment law Directive that, once adopted, would not apply to post-Brexit Britain.”
As I wrote this sentence a thought occurred to me: Is this entirely true? From this thought sprung two important questions:
Could the new Directive apply in Northern Ireland because of the Protocol?
And, if so, how could that be done?
Now, let me say straightaway that I have no idea what the answers to these two questions might be. And, I am fairly certain, nor does anyone else. That’s because we have never been here before.
In a speech delivered last week, John Whittingdale MP, the United Kingdom’s Minister of State for Media and Data, told a conference of Privacy Laws & Business that he welcomed:
… the European Commission’s February publication of draft data adequacy decisions for the UK, which rightly reflect our high data protection standards and paves the way for their formal approval.
The draft decisions will now be shared with the European Data Protection Board for a non-binding opinion and the European Parliament before being presented to Member States for formal approval. I urge the EU to fulfil its commitment in the agreed declaration and complete the process promptly.
Whittingdale’s comments came at the end of a speech in which he talked about the UK’s plans to use data to drive economic development. He also talked about the UK’s plans to expand the list of countries to which the UK will grant a “data adequacy” decision, which means that personal data can be seamlessly transferred to such countries from the UK.
Because it can never be done. Not for as long as the UK sits 50km off the European mainland and does 50% of its business with Europe. Not when the island of Ireland sits behind it – and the north east corner of that island is contested political ground.
Brexiteers may wish the UK was in the middle of the Pacific, as far away from Europe as possible, but that is not going to happen any time soon. Actually, it is never going to happen.
Brexit, for the Brexiteers, is a labour of Sisyphus. Just when they think they have pushed the boulder of absolute sovereignty to the top of the hill it rolls back again to the bottom requiring yet another heave to get Brexit over the line.
January 31. A full month into full Brexit. The UK is now completely out of the EU, out of its political, economic, and commercial structures. In Brussels jargon, it is a “third country”. Freedom of movement between the EU and the UK is now a thing of the past. New border barriers are in place, or soon will be. People, goods, service, and data now need permissions to cross this new border.
The new border barriers have come as a shock to many in the UK who seemed to think that a “free trade agreement” between the EU and the UK would leave things much as they were before. When you have spent much of your adult life living in the open European space that the EU has created through a mesh of agreements between its member states you can easily come to assume that this open space is the natural order of things. Except that it is not.
It was back in 1972. I had joined the Workers Union of Ireland, now part of SIPTU, as a trainee official. Full of naïve, student radicalism. Impatient to change the world.
I was assigned to learn my trade with an old-time official named Paddy.
Paddy was had risen through the union ranks from a shop-floor worker, to shop-steward, to full-time official. He was no intellectual, but he was full of what we would nowadays call “street-smarts”. An old-fashioned, working class union official whose heroes were Larkin, Connolly, and Bevan. Marx and Lenin didn’t come into it.
At the time, Paddy was in discussions about the renewal of a two-year agreement with a major food company. I was the junior bag carrier.
Our latest BEERG Byte videocast features myself and Baroness Margaret Ritchie, an independent member of the House of Lords discussing the impact of Brexit on the cohesion of the United Kingdom, specifically as it will affect both Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Brexit, like employee relations, politics and much else in life, is all too often driven by magical thinking. Magical thinking is the belief that there is a formula, a magic formula that, if it only can be found, will allow all sides to have all they want, all of the time. It is only ill-will and bad faith on the part of some that gets in the way of the formula being found.
Magical thinking believes that hard choices do not have to be made, that tough decisions on resource allocation can be avoided. Conflict arises from a lack of communication. If only we “listened” more to one another a way forward could be found. It refuses to accept that what you want and what I want may simply be incompatible. Everything can be “aligned” if we just believe and work hard enough. It is at the heart of the belief that there is a “win/win” solution to every problem.
When I started to write this piece yesterday, I opened it with the following paragraph:
As I write this on Saturday, October 17, I have no idea whether there will be a trade deal between the EU and the UK. I do not know if talks between the two on such a deal are genuinely over. It is not clear if the discussions between the two lead negotiators, Frost and Barnier, scheduled for London this week, will actually go ahead or remain cancelled, after Frost told Barnier on Friday night not to bother turning up unless he had a new offer to make to the UK.
The next morning, Sunday, I read Michael Gove’s article in the Sunday Times. In it Gove accuses the European Union of trying to ‘tie our hands indefinitely’ as he claims the UK has ‘no choice’ but to prepare for a no trade deal split from the bloc at the end of the year.