How Can the U.K. Stay in the Single Market After Brexit? Q&A

Updated on
Brexit: Why It Might Not Happen
  • Are there any other EU members that may also want to leave?
  • Will the vote resurrect a political push to reunite Ireland?

The shock of Britain’s vote has made way to resignation and practical considerations as leaders huddle in Brussels to work out a road map for what promises to be a drawn-out journey out of a decades-old union. Here are some more nagging questions to mull over.

So how would you unravel Brexit?

It will be very difficult to block Brexit as we have shown in different posts here, here and here. However, there are a few scenarios in which it might just be possible. In one, the economic fallout is so bad that the next U.K. prime minister will balk at the prospect of inflicting further pain by triggering the exit mechanism. He or she ultimately ignores the referendum result after a face-saving agreement with the rest of the EU. The prospect of another Scottish independence referendum might also prompt a radical rethink. A third hypothesis would see the emergence of a cross-party political movement during a snap election year that campaigns -- and wins -- on the platform of holding a second referendum. Despite deep anger -- and possible social unrest -- Brexit never happens. 

So who’s going to be the next prime minister?

Boris Johnson, the flamboyant former London mayor who led the revolt against David Cameron, was initially touted as most likely to succeed as leader of the Conservative Party. Yet it’s now Home Secretary Theresa May -- a measured and cautious voice in the Brexit debate -- who has emerged as the bookmakers’ favorite. She’s gained traction too among the general public, with 19 percent backing her and 18 percent Johnson, according to a YouGov Plc poll conducted after the referendum.

What’s ‘Norway Plus’?

It was raised on Tuesday as a model by Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, who may seek the Conservative Party leadership. Norway is not part of the 28-nation bloc yet has unfettered access to the single market. Iceland and Liechtenstein enjoy similar perks but in exchange they’ve had to adopt many EU laws without having a say in how they are shaped. Under Hunt’s idea though, Britain would look to impose a limit on immigration that the EU’s rules on free movement of labor rules currently prevent.

There is also the question of political goodwill. Will Britain’s spurned EU partners be in the mood to make concessions? Morgan Stanley economist Jacob Nell said a Norway-type arrangement would be less disruptive to the economy, but unrealistic in practice. As German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble warned ahead of the vote: “In is in. Out is out.”

Are there signs of anyone else wanting to do a referendum?

Brexit has set off speculation about whether France, the Netherlands, Italy and Austria are the next countries headed to the door. All have loud and vocal anti-immigration parties clamoring to jump on the bandwagon. Still, the prospects of a U.K.-style vote appear remote even though Italy is no stranger to referendums or political instability. In France, where Marine le Pen has stoked fears of a so-called Frexit, at least one poll showed a big margin of support for the EU. Denmark might be worth keeping a close eye on given its own fraught history with the bloc. It initially rejected the Maastricht Treaty -- the blueprint for the political and economic union -- before a round of negotiations on opt-outs led to its subsequent approval and a wave of street protests.

Will Brexit lead to the unification of Ireland?

Brexit is highly unlikely to lead to Irish reunification anytime soon. While the leading nationalist party Sinn Fein captured some headlines by calling for such a poll in the wake of the Brexit vote, the reality is that there is little broad appetite either side of the border for a referendum. Polls in Northern Ireland suggest support for unity is limited, and many in the south believe the rest of Ireland couldn’t afford it. Instead, politicians and officials are focused on practical implications such as how to keep the border open and a potential surge in applications for Irish passports from Northern Ireland residents.

How easy is it for British citizens to get an Irish passport?

A quarter of the British population claims to have Irish heritage and in the wake of Brexit, there’s been a spike in the number of applications for Irish passports from Britons keen to preserve their EU privileges with dual nationality. You are entitled to citizenship if you were born on the island before 2005. If you have an Irish parent or grandparent, you are also eligible.

The rush to get dual nationality has put a strain on Irish authorities. Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan sought to quell the panic by assuring U.K. passport holders that the criteria for applying are unchanged and their EU rights won’t disappear for some time.

— With assistance by Jill Ward

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