British holidaymakers will see their favourite trips changed forever, so make the most of it while you can, says James Ball.
As MPs and schoolchildren alike finally reach their summer holidays, millions of us will be looking towards the continent for a quick summer getaway – especially given the chances for all sorts of Brexit-related shenanigans once it’s back to school and work.
But there’s perhaps time for one last look – through the lens of a holiday trip – at what our different Brexit futures look like, as there’s nothing like a trip to a fellow (for now) EU nation to highlight the contrasts between the scenarios over which our politicians endlessly wrangle.
Let’s start with the status quo: any UK citizen travelling to an EU nation can expect to arrive with the entitlement to go through expedited security on virtually the same base as the country’s own citizens – always nice to save a little time – and won’t need any visas, or to pay any fee on arrival.
Once there, they’ll benefit from mobile networks working very similarly and charged often identically to their plan at home – another EU benefit – and will be able to relax in the knowledge that if things go awry their European Health Insurance Card will entitle them to state-provided healthcare.
Even better, if by some happy chance you’re offered a job, or see one you’d like to apply for while you’re away – maybe you’re hitchhiking after uni – you can take it, safe in the knowledge you’re entitled to do so, and allowed to move there.
If you meet someone in the same industry as you are and want to trade with them once you’re back at work, you can. If you fall in love with a city and want to study there, you know you can do so and pay the same fees a local would.
And if you fall in love, you can marry and know you’re both entitled to live in either of your countries of origin (or any other EU nation) if you do – and while we’re a member, you can live there while just dating, which takes some of the pressure off.
That’s what it means to live in a single market, and that’s what the European Union means when it tries to say the four freedoms are indivisible: that’s what makes everything as frictionless as it can be, opening up possibilities for everyone within the affected countries.
So what out of the above do we lose under different types of Brexit? At the very softest end of Brexit – the so-called Norway+ model, where we stay in the single market and customs union and continue to pay sizeable contributions to the EU, almost nothing. While some minor things around the edges could be different, we’d stay free to do everything we can do this summer – though we’d have lost our say in shaping the future of those rules, leaving us weaker and at a disadvantage.
A transition period would feel almost the same, except with all the threats that come from impermanence, especially if we’d be heading to a harder Brexit after it: if you’ve only got five months of transition left, do you really want to move out to try living in the same town as your holiday boyfriend/girlfriend? Who really wants to take on a new job in a new country if it might fall apart?
Despite what many of us believe, though, we have not yet agreed or secured a transition deal – as it stands, we could still leave far sooner.
When we start to look to the harder Brexits, we see question marks everywhere: the nice short passport queue is gone, and we could even find ourselves needing to secure a visa, and being without our health insurance card. Phone companies could charge us more while we’re out. And as for moving, studying, working or loving abroad – all would get progressively more difficult and complex to do.
That’s what it means when politicians talk about ‘friction’: each bit of ‘friction’ is a new barrier between our free choices to live as we wish across the EU single market area.
The worst scenario, of course, is the no-deal Brexit, but that looks dramatically different yet again. Despite what Brexiteers claim time and again, there is no automatic fall back to a stable trading situation without a Brexit deal – especially given that it would be likely to come after infuriating our EU partners.
The situation has been likened to comparing walking along the beach below a steep cliff-edge, and because that situation is fine and comfortable, imagining that it would be safe to jump down to that beach from the top of the cliff. In this scenario, it’s not clear the summer holiday could even happen: we have complex agreements about the use and control of airspace across Europe which are intertwined with EU law. We need ways to agree who can travel to what countries and what checks they would need.
We would be dealing with absolute chaos at the border over the import of essential supplies – and handling customs checks none of our ports were built to deal with.
And we’d be in the midst of a political crisis not seen in any of our lifetimes, as there is no possibly way we could prepare for this situation between now and March 2019.
The simple example of what happens on our summer holiday shows all the ways in which the seemingly technical and distant aspects of Brexit can touch upon our lives, and the choices we have ahead of us.
But what it can show us beyond that is the utter fiction upon which Brexit is based: no deal is emphatically worse than any deal – but stopping Brexit is better than any possible deal we could reach, too.