British Prime Minister Theresa May’s prime sound bite on being chosen to succeed David Cameron was “Brexit means Brexit.” She meant by this statement of the obvious that she would lead Britain out of the European Union, but neither she nor the Cabinet ministers she appointed have told the British people what Brexit is going to mean for them, nor how “it” is going to be achieved.

The Cabinet met last Wednesday at Chequers, the prime minister’s country residence, for a discussion of the issues involved. The public learned that ministers were agreed that after leaving the EU, Britain would seek a “unique” model that will confirm its place as “one of the great trading nations in the world.” The United Kingdom will “seek controls on the numbers of people who come to Britain from Europe” but also “a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services.”

The British prime minister is said to be aiming to invoke early in 2017 Article 50 of the EU Treaty, which will begin the process for negotiating terms for departure from the EU to be completed in two years. This will be done without first obtaining a vote in favor of doing so from the House of Commons.

These statements have inevitably been greeted with cynicism in the more responsible sections of the media as they suggest that the “Brexiteers” still think that Britain can “have its cake and eat it,” and that the EU states will want to be accommodating despite the damage that Brexit will do to the EU.

One early problem for the EU arising from Brexit is how to replace the significant British contribution to the EU budget. Either other EU countries will have to contribute more or the budget will have to be cut drastically. This will inevitably cause much aggravation.

Brexiteers seem to think that as the EU exports so much to Britain it will be ready to grant easy access to the single market, but some of the member states export little to Britain and will be reluctant to agree to concessions if Britain wants restrictions on their nationals coming to Britain. The Brexiteers forget or overlook the fact that any deal with Britain can only be effective when it has been ratified by all 27 countries.

A major interest for Britain is access and equal treatment for British financial services. This is a major concern for London, where there was a large majority for remaining in the EU.

London is not the only area in Britain with major concerns about the implications of Brexit. University towns that also voted for “remain” are worried by the government’s insistence on counting students as immigrants and further restricting the numbers coming to British universities. Universities have benefited from EU academic cooperation in research and have received EU funding. (The government has promised to replace such funds.)

May made early visits to Scotland, which voted overwhelmingly for remain, and Wales, which voted for Brexit despite the substantial development funds the principality has received from the EU. May has promised that Scottish and Welsh interests will be protected in new arrangements with the EU, but no one seems to have a clue about how this will be achieved. If the Scots are not satisfied there will be demands for a new referendum on Scottish independence which the Scottish nationalists might well win.

Northern Ireland, which also had a majority for remain, presents a bigger problem. If Britain were no longer in the single market and was imposing controls on immigrants and visitors from the EU, it would have to re-establish frontier posts with immigration and customs officers on the land border with the Republic of Ireland. May has promised that such controls will not be established on the border, but no one has explained how this can be achieved without ruining immigration controls.

The British referendum was an advisory one on membership of the EU. It was not a referendum about immigration, although the Brexiteers turned the campaign into one and the government seems to think that immigration controls are a sine qua non of Brexit and are said to be a “red line” for the prime minister.

Britain has not had a full and informed debate about immigration. The number of immigrants to Britain is significant, but many of them are coming to do jobs, for instance in agriculture, that British workers are unwilling to take. The National Health Service also relies to a considerable extent on staff from EU countries. How are these problems going to be tackled? No one seems to know.

Another issue that has yet to be faced is how to untangle British laws and regulations from EU law and rules. It will take years of work by lawyers and civil servants to work all this out. Businessmen who have blamed rules that restrict their operations on the “bureaucrats in Brussels” will probably discover that the rules in such areas as health and safety standards will not change as a result of “taking back control” from the EU.

The Brexiteers have recently been cock-a-hoop as news has been trickling in that the referendum has not had the predicted dire consequence for the economy. Consumption and production have increased and the stock market has risen. But the significant fall in the value of the British pound against foreign currencies has yet to show its full effects. Uncertainty about the outcome of negotiations is unsettling and is likely to lead at the least to postponement of many investment decisions.

The British economy and people will survive Brexit, but we should not kid ourselves into believing that there will be no pain and that everything in the garden is going to be lovely. Unfortunately the gardeners (our ministers) have not so far shown much sign that they have read the weather forecast correctly and foreseen all the bugs that they must remove to achieve an adequate harvest.

Hugh Cortazzi was Britain’s ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.

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