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How do you like your Brexit, Hard or Soft?

September 30, 2016


Three months have passed since the citizens of Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union. Negotiations on the transition period have not commenced, but questions have been rised as to how to deal with the issues of trade and immigration. These themes have dominated the discourse prior to the vote and will continue to loom over the coming months.


Since the referendum vote, Theresa May, former British Prime Minister David Cameron’s replacement, has promised the British people to secure a settlement that will address free movement and a suitable trade deal. It is possible that the primary focus of negotiations will revolve around the possibility of free trade with Europe and EU migration controls.

Hard or Soft Brexit?

The analogy of a soft or hard yolk has been used to describe the relationship of the UK post-Brexit. On one end of the spectrum, the transition can be “hard”. This would entail the UK not compromising on the issue of freedom of movement and withdrawing from the EU single market. If this were to occur, the UK would then trade with the remaining EU members as a country outside of Europe based on current regulations set by the World Trade Organization. In the short-term, the UK and EU would more than likely implement tariffs and other trade barriers. A less extreme settlement or “soft” Brexit, would involve UK membership in the EU single market and some form of free movement.

Non-EU Country Relationships

Norway provides an example of a possible path for the UK to follow. As of now, Norway has complete access to the EU single market. However, Norway is obligated to make financial contributions and must abide by a series of EU laws. Furthermore, freedom of movement applies to Norway which allows EU citizens to live and work in the country. Norway is part of the European Economic Area (EEA) which also includes countries such as Iceland and Liechtenstein. This agreement allows these three countries almost complete access to the European single market. Nonetheless, EEA countries are still subject to certain obligations that result from EU legislation.


When negotiations commence, the British government has insisted that immigration curbs would encompass a pivotal part of the Brexit settlement. Supporters of the Leave contingent have supported the use of a “points-based” system such as the Australian model. Prime Minister May has rejected such a model on the basis that it would limit the control of the government. Others have called for a hybrid system that would combine several models. One alternative model would be similar to the visa waiver program that is currently implemented by the US. Such a model would be applicable to Britons going to the EU, and require a fee to visit the EU without the requirement of a full visa.

Future of the UK

It appears that the UK may not be able to have its cake and eat it too. The vote has been cast, and the citizens of Britain have been heard. What lies ahead will take months and possibly years to finalize a settlement. Whether the UK upholds the result of the referendum is a matter that the government will have to resolve.




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