If you've ever been through a divorce, you know how it goes. Even if you planned to keep everything amicable, there's a good chance you'll wind up yelling at each other over who gets the furniture, the entertainment center, and the dog. It turns out the same is true for nations. Brexit, The UK's exit from the European Union, is not even 24 hours old, and the divorcing partners are already leveling threats at one another. And there are a lot more than two parties doing it.

With Brexit just one day old, here's a tally of the threats made so far:

1. Britain threatens to shred European security.

When UK ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow handed a letter from Theresa May to EU President Donald Tusk officially stating that the UK intended to leave the EU, it started a clock: The departure must be completed within 24 months. Two years is the blink of an eye in European negotiating time, and many expert observers doubt that the two sides will be able to work out a whole new trade agreement in that time span. That would leave the UK trading with the EU under the same World Trade Organization rules as any other country, at much higher tariffs than it pays now. May apparently wants the EU leaders to think twice before they let that happen because her departure letter contains this sentence: "In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened."

In other words, "Give us a favorable trade agreement or we'll leave you vulnerable to hackers and terrorists." Ouch.

2. Angela Merkel threatens no deal until Britain pays its $65 billion bill.

That figure (the rough equivalent of 60 million euros) is what the EU calculates Britain should pay to settle its obligations as it leaves. It will likely be a tough negotiation, so May made it clear in her letter that she wants to work out the terms of the "deep and special partnership" the UK hopes to enjoy with the EU--she uses that phrase several times--simultaneously with discussions over how much the UK will pay.

No dice, said German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship," she said in response to May's letter. "Only when this question is dealt with can we--hopefully soon after--begin talking about our future relationship." In other words, if you want us to even consider a favorable trade agreement, you'll have to pay up first.

3. Britain threatens consequences of a 'hard' border with Ireland.

As May notes in her letter, the Republic of Ireland is the only EU nation with a land border with the UK. She goes on to say: "We want to avoid a return to a hard border between our two countries, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area between us, and to make sure the UK's withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland."

Perhaps, but it seems like the greatest threat of harm is to the UK, if Northern Ireland (which is within its borders) once again becomes the scene of mounting violence, or if the residents there seek a referendum on leaving the UK.

4. Departing French President Francois Hollande threatens that Brexit will be 'economically painful.'

Chances are, this threat was intended for his own citizens. Marine Le Pen, who is hoping to replace him, has been running on an anti-EU platform and it's raised the possibility that France may be next to leave. Le Pen says the EU will do its best to punish Britain for leaving to try and scare other nations out of following suit.

Meantime, the European Parliament's chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said Parliament would veto any deal that was too soft on Britain, nor would it allow any trade deals to be completed before the UK had actually left the EU. And then, he said, "Naturally, it will never outside the union be better than inside the union." It's not "a question of revenge" but "a question of logic," he explained.

5. Everyone threatens expats.

There are more than 1 million British subjects living in EU nations, and more than 3 million citizens of other EU nations living in the UK. The European expatriates in Britain are mainly there working, while the British expats are mostly retirees who've moved to Spain, Ireland, France, or Germany much the way people in the US retire to Mexico or Costa Rica. What rights will British subjects living in Europe have, and vice versa? That question is up in the air.

6. Lufthansa threatens British Airways.

Or at least promises that life will be tougher. "The basic approach is for every industry to say 'hey, let's pretend that nothing has happened.' That's something the governments, and also the EU Commission, won't go along with," remarked Deutsche Lufthansa CEO Carsten Spohr. "You can be sure about that, from what I hear." Particularly at issue are flights by British carriers within the EU, something that will likely require a local license once Brexit is completed. Will that license be granted? Who knows?

7. Scotland threatens to leave.

The day before May's letter was delivered to Tusk, the Scottish Parliament voted to demand a referendum on whether to leave the United Kingdom. It held one such referendum in 2014 in which the majority of Scots voted to stay in the UK--but of course that was before Brexit, which most Scots voted against.

Now that Brexit is happening, the Scottish Parliament wants a second vote next year. But they need the British government's permission for any legally binding vote, and May has said she won't agree to any vote before the Brexit process is complete. Of course, that could backfire if it angers the Scots enough that this time they vote to leave. Then an independent Scotland could ask to join the EU, which at least has a nice circularity.

All in all, as Tusk said at a press conference after receiving May's letter, there is "no reason to pretend this is a happy day." And, he added, "We miss you already."

Published on: Mar 30, 2017
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