Now is the winter of our discontent

Visit of Theresa May, British Prime Minister, to the EC
Discussion between Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker (in the foreground, from left to right)

The annus horribilis of 2016 continues unabated into 2017. British Prime Minister Theresa May signalled with her policy speech yesterday (17 January) the timescale and process of Britain’s exit from the EU by the summer of 2019. The two million British passport holders living in European Union Member States now face hard decisions about their future.

It is clear that promotion prospects for UK nationals working in the EU institutions will be curbed, that there will be no UK MEPs after the European Parliament elections in 2019 and that the demand for UK nationals working in the service industries in Brussels will diminish. English will remain the main language of choice for business and international media communications in the medium term, meaning that there will still be demand for English mother tongue speakers and interpreters.

But with this speech, the Prime Minister has put the solidarity of her Conservative Party ahead of the British national interest. It is clear that the Conservative Party in Britain will now extinguish the UK Independence Party and the British National Party by espousing a strong “Britain First” Platform, thereby consolidating these disparate groups into a strengthened Conservative Britain. But are these elements of the national psyche that British citizens living in Europe necessarily wish to espouse? Are they prepared to tolerate such a political swing to the right in the “old country” and to see their national interest sacrificed at the expense of liberal democratic values? I suspect not, and many will seek to take on new citizenship to remain in other European host countries.

The likelihood of another referendum on Scottish independence has now increased, in effect sounding the death knell of the United Kingdom. Scotland voted to remain in the UK last time round. I do not and have never supported the use of popular referenda as a mechanism to decide complex political questions. But I fear that yet another referendum in Scotland may now be inevitable. By ignoring the wishes of the majority of Scottish voters to remain in the EU, and moreover presenting a political model for the British Government which will do nothing to create the social equality or the fair distribution of wealth in the country that Scottish voters have always craved, Prime Minister May has condemned Britain to a fate that will almost certainly see a Scottish referendum on independence, and one which will reverse the decision of the last plebiscite.

It is now clear that the Prime Minister’s exit strategy will deprive British citizens of the freedoms in Europe they currently enjoy, in particular the freedom of movement and the freedom of establishment. If there is a lack of reciprocity from a “Fortress Britain” on these freedoms, the likely retaliation from Europe should come as no surprise.

Our Universities are left with questions about the future of research funding, how to manage relations with peer establishments in Europe, visiting students from Europe and student exchanges. Will Britain remain in the Erasmus programme after 2019, and how will this affect the study choices of secondary school pupils about to start their two year “A” level cycle this autumn?  The twelve point plan set out by the British Prime Minister offers a joyless winter prospect with no suggestion yet of how the vision of “Global Britain” may turn this into summer.