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As Brexit looms

As was widely expected, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won last Thursday’s general elections in Britain. The Tories got 364 House of Commons seats…

As was widely expected, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won last Thursday’s general elections in Britain. The Tories got 364 House of Commons seats to Jeremy Corbin-led Labour Party’s 203 seats.

It was an election dominated by Brexit, Britain’s move to leave the European Union following a referendum vote in 2016. The scale of the Tories’ victory indicated that the British people want to put an end to the stalemate that had dogged debates in the British parliament over Brexit. Johnson and the Tories won massively in areas that traditionally voted Labour.

Boris Johnson, who first led the campaign for Britain to leave the EU back in 2016, has now been given a mandate to implement the decision in practical terms. The former Mayor of London and former Foreign Minister’s views on Brexit have been unambiguous, that Britain must leave the EU with or without a deal. He however faced a lot of opposition both from within his own party and from the opposition who feel such an unprecedented step would harm Britain’s economy in the short and long run.

Brexit is essentially fuelled by immigration. As a former world empire Britain has been a magnet for people from all over the world. It had liberal attitudes and a vibrant economy. With Britain’s entry into the EU in 1973 and the immigration policies which made it mandatory for citizens of member states to be allowed to live and work anywhere within the Union, lots more immigrants flocked to Britain. Ironically, it is the backlash against immigrants that Boris Johnson, himself of Turkish ancestry, exploited to push through his Brexit campaign. With Brexit, he hopes to stem immigration and also secure favourable trade deals with the EU, US and the rest of the world.

While the Conservatives’ absolute majority in the House of Commons gives Johnson what he needs to get approval for his Brexit deal with the EU, it remains to be seen how all this will pan out. Although Johnson has promised that Britain will leave the EU by January 31, 2020 there are necessary negotiations which will take quite some time to be concluded to the satisfaction of both sides. Many believe that the December 2020 date given by the EU for conclusion of negotiations with Britain will not be sufficient.

Britain will also have to go into negotiations with other countries around the world, prominent among whom are the United States of America, China, Japan and India. Britain also wants to use the Commonwealth which it dominates as another fall-back option for its new economic drive post Brexit.

Johnson must also be concerned by election fall-outs in Britain itself. One of the key outcomes of the election is the heightening of separatist feelings in Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Scottish National Party [SNP], which campaigned on the theme of Scottish independence, won handsomely in Scotland. Party leader Nicola Sturgeon intends to press for a second referendum on Scottish independence from Britain, which could be successful this time around. The first referendum in 2014 resulted in a narrow defeat for separation. Many Scots now feel that Scotland, which voted against Brexit in 2016, will opt for independence instead and remain an EU member state.  Similarly in Northern Ireland, which also voted against Brexit in the 2016 referendum, election results indicated an uneasy feeling that Johnson’s deal with EU could create an invisible “border across the sea” between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

For reasons of Nigeria’s historical colonial ties to Britain, developments there are of importance to us. Two issues are of paramount importance. On trade, we should lead Africa to negotiate with Britain as a bloc rather than to do so as individual countries. Brexit is also likely to lead to a spike in anti-immigrant actions formally and informally in Britain, so Nigeria must keep a close watch on how this will affect the welfare of the sizeable Nigerian community there.

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