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Brexit, The Netherlands And Trade


The deadline for Britain to leave the European Union is in March of next year - not too far away considering how much needs to be resolved and how Britain's exit will affect not just Britain but all 27 European trading partners. Pieter Omtzigt is a member of parliament in the Netherlands, and he's been tasked with bracing for Brexit. He joins us now by Skype. Thanks so much for being with us.

PIETER OMTZIGT: Good morning.

SIMON: Well, what keeps you up at night? What do you worry about?

OMTZIGT: Well, I'm worried that this process is getting chaotic. Two and a half years ago, Great Britain had a referendum, decided to leave the European Union. But it did not decide what kind of future relationship it wanted with the 27 member states.

And because this was all about free trade, you have to know that half of the trade of Great Britain is with the other 27 EU member states, and the other half is with other countries in the world, foremost among them, the U.S. and China. We're one year and four months into the negotiation process. And here, finally, is the proposal of Great Britain - what future relations should be. That's a bit late in the process. This particular proposal should have been there on day one.

Now, at the moment, there are 3 million EU citizens living in Great Britain, and about 1.2 million British live in EU countries. Their rights are undefined, so it's not clear what they can do. And as you get closer to the deadline, these people are really worried. And by the way, there are industries in which there are quite a few foreigners, so if you take them out all at once, you may also have a problem keeping it going.

In the Netherlands, we know we have 30,000 businesses, mostly small and medium enterprises, that export only to EU countries, Great Britain included. That means that they've never seen a Customs and Excise control officer. They will have to get used to go through Customs and Excise.

A lot of big industries have just-in-time delivery. They have supply chains, which run through and from Great Britain. On top of that, you have the issue on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

SIMON: But there was a peace agreement a generation ago.

OMTZIGT: Yes, there was a peace agreement. But the big part of the peace agreement was that there is no border between Ireland and Northern Island. And that was possible because both Great Britain and Ireland are within the EU.

SIMON: Can Britain get what they call a soft exit, or are there too many hard feelings for that?

OMTZIGT: I think on the EU side, there is a lot of willingness to have the soft Brexit. There's not much willingness among the hard Brexiteers to have a soft Brexit because a soft Brexit means that you stay within the customs union. The customs union means that you export and import goods freely. But if you stay within the customs union, you keep the same standards and the same rule book.

SIMON: This sounds like an awful mess.

OMTZIGT: It is. So there was no clear choice from the British people for the alternative. So there's been a lot of political debate within the U.K. in defining what kind of relationship they do want with the EU, but it should have taken place before the negotiations started. Because we can negotiate for a long time, but after you end the negotiation and you want something like a hard Brexit, there are hundreds of regulations which you have to make, but there is little time left for implementing those choices. And that could lead to a chaotic Brexit. And that's actually the thing I fear most.

SIMON: Pieter Omtzigt is a member of the Dutch parliament. Thanks so much for being with us, Sir.

OMTZIGT: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.