22 January 2020
Most of  the demands under a Red Brexit can be met by Britain on its own, Labour believes. Photo: Bloomberg
Most of the demands under a Red Brexit can be met by Britain on its own, Labour believes. Photo: Bloomberg

If a hard Brexit is bad, how about a Red Brexit?

As the United Kingdom wrestles with its Brexit woes, some Hongkongers are saying that Brits should not be so afraid because even a no-deal Brexit won’t kill. 

This view is shared by some hard-line Brexiteers in the British Parliament, who assert that a hard Brexit is actually the most genuine embodiment of the people’s will as expressed in the 2016 Brexit referendum. 

They say Brexit means the UK no longer has to toe the European Union’s (EU) line, so what’s the point of negotiating the terms of the withdrawal with Brussels? 

They might have a point, but the fact is, all British politicians and lawmakers, regardless of their political affiliation, are well aware that short-term turbulence would be inevitable in case of a hard Brexit. 

The only difference is that while most Brexiteers believe such turbulence would be short-lived, others are worried that the result of a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic. 

For example, as some scholars have pointed out, once the British authorities re-impose standard customs clearance procedures on trucks arriving from the EU, it may take an extra four minutes for each truck to pass the border checkpoint. 

A previous study has indicated that even an average one-and-a-half-minute delay for each truck from Europe could result in a nationwide road traffic paralysis across Britain, let alone four minutes. 

And it is exactly because of such implications for the livelihood of average British employees such as truck drivers, logistics workers and staffers of the entire retail industry that the Labour Party has insisted that Prime Minister Theresa May must first agree to rule out a hard Brexit as an option on the table before they would resume talks with her. 

On Tuesday, the House of Commons passed a non-binding motion that rejected a no-deal Brexit as a feasible option. 

As far as May is concerned, there is nothing to talk about with the Labour because she is well aware that Labour MPs would simply repeat their three major demands, also called by Brits as a “Red Brexit”. 

These three major demands are: 1) keeping the existing customs union with the EU in order to avoid the above-mentioned crisis; 2) a promise by the Tory government to enforce a basket of measures and social benefits to protect the interests of British workers after Brexit; and 3) continuing to closely follow some of the high-level and environmental policy requirements adopted by the EU after Brexit. 

The upside of a “Red Brexit”, Labour argues, is that most of these demands can, in principle, be carried out by Britain on its own, thereby sparing London the trouble of renegotiating a new Brexit agreement with Brussels. 

But why would May listen to the demands of her political adversary? 

The answer is quite simple: since the mainstream opinion among MPs is against a hard Brexit, if May continues to insist on her Plan B option, which is almost the same as the one already thrown out by the House of Commons earlier on, a hard Brexit would almost be a foregone conclusion. 

And if that scenario takes place, it is very likely that May would be ousted, and be replaced by a coalition government that is fully committed to avoiding a hard Brexit. 

That being said, the only way for May to hang on to her job is probably to seek the unanimous support of the largest opposition party, Labour.

But would Labour be willing to cooperate with the Tories? It is said that Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has always been, policy-wise, a localist. 

As such, it is believed to be in his party’s best interests to put an end to the Brexit mayhem as soon as possible with the “Red Brexit” model so that British voters can once again stay focused on domestic policy issues.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 29

Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


HKEJ contributor