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The Brexit nightmare we will soon be unable to ignore

There are complications we haven't even imagined yet. 

First, when it comes to Brexit, there are the familiar problems. On EU law, the prime minister’s idea is to pass a "Great Repeal Bill" to take effect the day we leave. This will do exactly the opposite of what its title suggests: it will confirm the place of every existing EU law in the UK statute books, at least initially. The idea is that Parliament will then go through and review them all over the coming decades.

Even this supposedly most straightforward of steps is riddled with complexity. EU laws in the form of shared regulations lay down cross-border protections for consumers, as well as technical and legal standards enabling products to circulate without further ado. But then what happens when EU countries decide to amend a regulation a few months or years down the line? Do we meekly accept decisions over which we no longer have any say, like Norway, and change our rules too? Or do we allow our rules to drift away from their continental counterparts, thus making technical standards no longer compatible, nullifying consumer guarantees and progressively shutting us out of the single market on which so much British trade depends?

But while the dangers of quitting not just the EU, but the single market and the European customs union as well, are now widely discussed, there is more that we are yet to consider. Soon, though it will be hard to ignore. Over the years, we’ve taken advantage of the EU framework in many practical ways to help us achieve many national objectives. Unpicking each of those is its own bureaucratic nightmare.

For a start, we save money and administrative headaches by doing tasks jointly rather than duplicating each other's effort many times over. Research is the classic example. There’s simply no point in every single country paying for its own expensive medical research, for instance, when collaboration brings better results faster and far more cheaply. In recent years, this joint approach has made Europe a world leader in science and Britain an internationally recognised centre of excellence. Are we really ready to pay an entire continent’s worth of investment out of our own national coffers, simply to try and keep pace with our neighbours?

Then there are areas where we have world-level international commitments to meet, whether we like it or not. Right now, as an EU member, we often delegate compliance to joint agencies. To take just one example: currently we take care of our international reporting and monitoring obligations on maritime safety through our membership of the European Marine Safety Agency (EMSA), and through shared EU rules on seafarer working conditions. This is how we maintain Britain’s status as a "quality flag state" under international law. If we lose this, we don’t lose our obligations — but we do lose our ability to meet them quickly and easily. Will we set up a separate UK agency for this purpose? Where will we find the necessary expertise, how long will it take and what will it cost?

Similar points apply to a whole host of fields. How will we certify aircraft, their engines and other related products for safety if we leave the European Air Safety Agency? How about approving medicines for sale on the market, currently done through the European Medicines Agency based in London? How about testing and authorising (or banning) potentially hazardous chemicals, currently done jointly through the European Chemicals Agency? Responding to coastal pollution (European Environment Agency)? Protecting British trademarks and patents abroad (European Union Intellectual Property Office and the Patent office and court)?  Ensuring that our sat-nav systems work (European Global Navigation Satellite Systems Agency)?

The list of agencies whose work we would suddenly have to duplicate is very long. And every single case will need its own, bespoke, solution.

Finally, there are areas where we co-operate because there are things we can’t do alone, as a simple matter of logic. It’s futile to make unilateral attempts to manage local fish stocks, for instance, when fish have the unfortunate habit of swimming from one country’s territory to another’s. We can’t possibly maintain our open skies agreement across Europe, vital to so many UK businesses, without the cooperation of other countries. And the European Arrest Warrant, which has both brought homegrown crooks back to face British justice and allowed us to remove foreign ne’er-do-wells from British soil in days rather than decades, simply could not exist without the shared legal frameworks we’ve developed with our neighbours.

In all these areas and many more, the point is not that pulling out of the EU means throwing in the towel. Quite the opposite. We will still need to find ways to do these things, either because of blatant self-interest or because of our wider commitments to the world. Other non-EU members do them too. But once we’ve lost our EU membership, we will have the worst of both worlds. We’ll incur massive economic and bureaucratic costs – the kind of costs we’ve spent the last fifty years gradually eliminating — at the same time as crippling our effectiveness both domestically and on the world stage. At best, we will have to find new and potentially complex ways to continue the cooperation which, inside the EU, has been straightforward. At worst, we will simply have to duplicate everything.

It’s all too easy, as Britain is now discovering, to decide one day to quit the EU. But managing the fallout from that decision is a bureaucratic and costly nightmare, and getting Britain back on its feet post-Brexit will be a Herculean task.

Britain in Europe has led the world in so many areas. It seems likely that only through dismantling that leadership will we realise quite how good we’ve had it up till now. When reality hits home, it will hardly be surprising if we see people asking for a rethink of the Brexit decision.

Richard Corbett is the Labour MEP for Yorkshire & Humber. 

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Meet Anne Marie Waters - the Ukip politician too extreme for Nigel Farage

In January 2016, Waters launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). 

There are few people in British political life who can be attacked from the left by Nigel Farage. Yet that is where Anne Marie Waters has found herself. And by the end of September she could well be the new leader of Ukip, a party almost synonymous with its beer-swilling, chain-smoking former leader.

Waters’s political journey is a curious one. She started out on the political left, but like Oswald Mosley before her, has since veered dramatically to the right. That, however, is where the similarities end. Waters is Irish, agnostic, a lesbian and a self-proclaimed feminist.

But it is her politics – rather than who she is – that have caused a stir among Ukip’s old guard. Former leader Paul Nuttall has said that her views make him “uncomfortable” while Farage has claimed Ukip is “finished” if, under her leadership, it becomes an anti-Islam party.

In her rhetoric, Waters echoes groups such as the English Defence League (EDL) and Britain First. She has called Islam “evil” and her leadership manifesto claims that the religion has turned Britain into a “fearful and censorious society”. Waters wants the banning of the burqa, the closure of all sharia councils and a temporary freeze on all immigration.

She started life in Dublin before moving to Germany in her teens to work as an au pair. Waters also lived in the Netherlands before returning to Britain to study journalism at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2003. She subsequently gained a second degree in law. It was then, she says, that she first learnt about Islam, which she claims treats women “like absolute dirt”. Now 39, Waters is a full-time campaigner who lives in Essex with her two dogs and her partner who is an accountant.

Waters’s first spell of serious activism was with the campaign group One Law for All, a secularist organisation fronted by the Iranian feminist and human rights activist Maryam Namazie. Waters resigned in November 2013 after four years with the organisation. According to Namazie, Waters left due to political disagreements over whether the group should collaborate with members of far-right groups.

In April 2014, Waters founded Sharia Watch UK and, in January 2016, she launched Pegida UK with former EDL frontman Steven Yaxley-Lennon (aka Tommy Robinson). The group was established as a British chapter of the German-based organisation and was set up to counter what it called the “Islamisation of our countries”. By the summer of 2016, it had petered out.

Waters twice stood unsuccessfully to become a Labour parliamentary candidate. Today, she says she could not back Labour due to its “betrayal of women” and “betrayal of the country” over Islam. After joining Ukip in 2014, she first ran for political office in the Lambeth council election, where she finished in ninth place. At the 2015 general election, Waters stood as the party’s candidate in Lewisham East, finishing third with 9.1 per cent of the vote. She was chosen to stand again in the 2016 London Assembly elections but was deselected after her role in Pegida UK became public. Waters was also prevented from standing in Lewisham East at the 2017 general election after Ukip’s then-leader Nuttall publicly intervened.

The current favourite of the 11 candidates standing to succeed Nuttall is deputy leader Peter Whittle, with Waters in second. Some had hoped the party’s top brass would ban her from standing but last week its national executive approved her campaign.

Due to an expected low turnout, the leadership contest is unpredictable. Last November, Nuttall was elected with just 9,622 votes. More than 1,000 new members reportedly joined Ukip in a two-week period earlier this year, prompting fears of far-right entryism.

Mike Hookem MEP has resigned as Ukip’s deputy whip over Waters’ candidacy, saying he would not “turn a blind eye” to extremism. By contrast, chief whip, MEP Stuart Agnew, is a supporter and has likened her to Joan of Arc. Waters is also working closely on her campaign with Jack Buckby, a former BNP activist and one of the few candidates to run against Labour in the by-election for Jo Cox’s former seat of Batley and Spen. Robinson is another backer.

Peculiarly for someone running to be the leader of a party, Waters does not appear to relish public attention. “I’m not a limelight person,” she recently told the Times. “I don’t like being phoned all the time.”

The journalist Jamie Bartlett, who was invited to the initial launch of Pegida UK in Luton in 2015, said of Waters: “She failed to remember the date of the demo. Her head lolled, her words were slurred, and she appeared to almost fall asleep while Tommy [Robinson] was speaking. After 10 minutes it all ground to an uneasy halt.”

In an age when authenticity is everything, it would be a mistake to underestimate yet another unconventional politician. But perhaps British Muslims shouldn’t panic about Anne Marie Waters just yet.

James Bloodworth is editor of Left Foot Forward

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear