Damaging silence from British government

The post-Brexit remedial action that it needs to take may well be overlooked in the diplomatic flurry

The damaging silence from the British government on how it plans to handle the immediate aftermath of the Brexit vote was a mistake. The British people, British businesses and the millions of legal non-British residents in the United Kingdom, never mind the European Union (EU) and worldwide investors in British businesses, deserve some kind of assurances that their interests will receive some care from the government. They have been anxiously seeking some clarity without getting any good answers.

For example, it is a mistake that the UK government has not given a categorical assurance to EU citizens, who are already resident in the UK, that they will able to stay. Such uncertainty eats away at people and businesses planning their futures. They will privately decide to move on to easier places where they are more overtly welcome, while the debate in the British parliament is still stuck on when and how to invoke Article 5 of the Lisbon Treaty.

This is why it is a useful start that the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has announced that EU funding for farmers, scientists and other projects will be continued after Brexit, to a limited degree.

The government said that it would allocate up to £4.5 billion (Dh21.37 billion) a year to guarantee to back those EU-funded projects, signed before this year’s Autumn Statement, and that it would continue the EU’s agricultural funding up till 2020. But such thinking is far too short-term in a business where investment takes decades to come to fruition and payback.

There is a real danger that the urgent remedial action that the government needs to offer will be overlooked in the diplomatic flurry to first understand and then manage the six separate negotiating tracks that Britain has given itself: First, the exit from the EU; second, a Free-Trade Agreement (FTA) on future economic ties; third, interim economic cover before the FTA starts; fourth, accession to the World Trade Organisation; fifth, a set of deals to replace the 53 FTAs that bind the EU (including the UK) to other countries; and finally, a new agreement on cooperation in foreign, defence and security policies with the EU and other states.

As the Conservative government in UK begins to get to grips with decades of negotiation that this requires, it also needs to make sure that Britain is still left with an international economy when the talking is all over.

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