Political, legal opposition adds obstacles to Brexit

The mechanics of executing Brexit, the move to get Britain out the of European Union, are causing tensions inside the British government, and with opponents who would like to stop it from happening at all. Special correspondent Jennifer Glasse reports.

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    In London tomorrow, British Prime Minister Theresa May will unveil her plan to follow through with Brexit, the U.K.'s decision to leave the European Union.

    But the mechanics of executing the move to get Britain out of the E.U. are causing tensions inside the British government and with opponents who would like to stop it from happening at all.

    From London, special correspondent Jennifer Glasse reports.


    The only thing that's really certain about Brexit is the uncertainty it's caused.

    The British government wants to start the process by invoking Article 50 by the end of March. That's the clause in the Lisbon Treaty that allows states to withdraw from the E.U. It would start the clock on the two-year deadline for the U.K. to exit the European Union.

    But there are obstacles in the government's way, like John Shaw and Wynne Edwards. They lead a group of British expatriates living in France who want to delay or defeat Brexit altogether.

    WYNNE EDWARDS, Fair Deal for Expats: It affects us profusely, because we have made our lives there. We have invested there. And if we are made to leave or if we don't enjoy the rights there that we enjoy at the moment, it would severely affect us.


    The U.N. estimates 1.2 million U.K.-born people live in other E.U. countries, which give them the same rights as any European.

    JOHN SHAW, Fair Deal for Expats: I have got a right to work. I have a right to living there forever. I have got a right of owning property. I got a right of transferring my property to my family when I die. I have got have a right of use of health care. All of these are rights which are conferred on me as a result of living in the E.U.


    But Brexit would likely end those rights, so Fair Deal for Expats and others have taken their case to the British court system to argue that only Parliament can call for a break with the E.U. The government says the Brexit referendum gives it the right to decide how Britain exits.

    Those from other European countries living in the U.K. are also watching anxiously for the results. There are so many French here that London is called Paris on the Thames, and is considered the sixth largest city in France.

    Patricia Connell, founder of France in London, says that's why Parliament should be the one to decide if and how Brexit happens.

    PATRICIA CONNELL, Founder, France in London: There should be a discussion. And there should be debates in the House of Commons about it and how it should be done.

    And I think that that is that point that is being argued at the moment about the triggering of Article 50. Without Parliament debating and agreeing on it and without a vote taking place, then it shouldn't be triggered.


    In November, the high court ruled in the opponents' favor, saying that Parliament indeed should be involved.

    Now the British government is appealing to the Supreme Court. Parliament member Anne-Marie Trevelyan campaigned in favor of Brexit and says, just because the popular vote was close, with 52 percent in favor, doesn't mean it should be discarded.

    ANNE-MARIE TREVELYAN, Member of Parliament: I wasn't terribly thrilled when Tony Blair got elected as prime minister, but I didn't suddenly call for a second referendum and say that the people were wrong.

    If a majority — you know, it's a simple equation. If it's a majority decision, then that's the decision we go with. That's how democracies work.


    Trevelyan says, no matter how the Supreme Court rules, she's confident that the outcome will be the same, with Britain eventually leaving the E.U.


    Coming out of the E.U. will ensure that we're not stuck in a very, very sluggish customs union, but we're able to be the greatest free trade nation on Earth again, which is what so many people want. And you talk to businesses, they want to be freed of the regulations and of the drag pressures that being stuck within the E.U. trading bloc creates.


    But it's not at all clear exactly how businesses would be affected.

    East London's Canary Wharf is home to some of the world's largest banks. Brexit would likely mean tighter trading rules with Europe, and that has some thinking about moving out of the U.K.

    Billions of dollars a day are traded here, making London the biggest financial center in the world. But Brexit could change that. And cities like Frankfurt, Paris and Dublin are all vying for possible business as banks consider leaving.

    Market strategist Mike Ingram says financial services in Britain employ about 2.2 million people, accounting for 12 percent of the country's GDP. That won't be easy to move.

  • MIKE INGRAM, Strategist, BGC Partners:

    But, at the end of the day, you cannot deconstruct what is on paper one of the most important financial centers in the world overnight. You know, let's say we go to Dublin, low tax rate, they speak English, right time zone, et cetera. Physically, how do you how do you decamp that many people?


    Wynne Edwards says an even more critical concern is the instability to Europe in general. World Wars I and II, in fact, wars going back to centuries, have set nation against nation on the continent. He worries breaking apart the union will foster more strife.


    I think you need to cast your mind back to what's happened in history. And just, without going into it, I cannot believe that anyone wouldn't want a united Europe.


    I would disagree, that I think a dangerous Europe is one where nations feel suffocated by the E.U. machine, which is trying to overcome and stop those individual nations' views of the world.


    The Supreme Court is expected to rule this month. Whatever it decides, Britain will remain divided about whether Brexit will benefit or hurt the country.

    For each side, the clock is ticking, towards implementing Brexit, limiting the upheaval it could cause, or stopping it altogether.

    For the PBS NewsHour, I'm Jennifer Glasse in London.