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Tip sheet: The realities and complexities of Brexit

March 24, 2017

The United Kingdom will officially leave the European Union on March 29, 2019.

The split (commonly known as Brexit) from the 27 other countries is not likely to be without acrimony, said Kevin Matthews, a professor of European history at George Mason University’s College of Humanities and Social Sciences. In fact, he said, there isn’t even an agreement on how negotiations should proceed once they get underway.

Complicating things is the U.K.’s desire for a “comprehensive free-trade deal with their former partners,” he added. “But EU negotiator Michel Barnier has made clear that a withdrawal agreement must come first. This includes settling the so-called divorce bill—the amount the U.K. owes for its outstanding EU commitments, estimated to be £57 billion, or approximately $71 billion.”

George Mason professor Andrew Hughes Hallett, who teaches macroeconomics at Mason’s Schar School for Policy and Government, said that the EU has incentives “to delay and fail to agree [to terms] so they can impose the agreement they want in 2019—including a divorce fee.… The incentives for the U.K. are simply to walk out without an agreement, because they cannot expect to reach an agreement within the time allotted.”

Hughes Hallett is also a member of the Scottish Fiscal Commission, a three-person panel that studies the transnational finances between Scotland and England. With Brexit in play, Scotland is again rumbling about leaving the U.K.

To do that, Scotland would have to hold a referendum for full independence. (An internal debate in Scotland’s parliament about having a referendum was postponed until Tuesday, March 28, due to the terror attack in London on March 22.)

To be legal, a referendum would have to be agreed to by the U.K. Parliament, which Prime Minister Teresa May has ruled out, Hughes Hallett said, until the final Brexit negotiations have been completed, which might be by 2025.

“It is hard to see how banning or delaying a referendum can do anything other than increase the pressure for a separation, Hughes Hallett said. “All the planning for a separate Scotland has already been done.”

Kevin Matthews can be reached at 703-993-1250 or cmatthe2@gmu.edu.

Andrew Hughes Hallett can be reached at 703-993-2280 or ahughesh@gmu.edu.

For more information, contact Buzz McClain at 703-727-0230 or bmcclai2@gmu.edu.

About George Mason

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls 35,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility.