Brexit Rivals Dunkirk, Suez as U.K. Crisis, Judge Says

(Bloomberg) -- U.K.’s exit from the European Union is a crisis that rivals the evacuation of British soldiers from French beaches during World War II, Britain’s judge at the EU’s General Court, Ian Forrester, said.

“I cannot recall a greater sense of crisis since Dunkirk in 1940, or Suez in 1956, for the United Kingdom,” he said, speaking at a Brussels legal conference. The U.K. is "passing through a period of extraordinary instability and confusion" and it is "not at all clear what will be the future relationship" with the EU.

After Britain voted to leave the bloc in June 2016, lawsuits forced Prime Minister Theresa May to stop her attempt for a quick exit. A lower-court decision that ensured Parliament’s involvement in the approval process -- upheld by the U.K. Supreme Court in January 2017 -- brought derision from the pro-Brexit tabloids, who labeled the judges as “Enemies of the People.”

On Thursday, the British pound slid to its lowest level in mid-November before recovering as Bank of England’s Chief Economist Andy Haldane unexpectedly supported an interest-rate increase. Still, some analysts remained skeptical the currency can sustain the advance as Brexit uncertainty persists. May is to meet her peers at the European Union summit on June 28-29 and the tone of the negotiations could be a key driver for sterling in the coming days.

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 but remain in a transition period for 21 months during which it will stick to the bloc’s rules without any influence on decision-making. In that period, negotiations will continue on the two sides’ future relationship in areas including trade, financial services and security.

“We are now only a few months away from March 29 and if Brexit happens there are an enormous number of very delicate and very difficult uncertainties before us which need to be addressed,” Forrester said. "At this moment it is sadly not at all clear by what mechanism those uncertainties will be addressed."

"In areas such as criminal enforcement, security, sanctions, recognition of judgments, European law" is far more detailed than U.K. law and "thousands of texts" are now being transferred into U.K. legislation by lawmakers.

"The most ardent Brexit fans accept that European Union law will continue to govern in the U.K. after Brexit will occur," he said. "That process has confronted ministers, officials, commentators and press with extraordinary difficult and uncertain questions, questions without a clear answer."

“It is a matter of dismay each morning when you listen to the news and truly you do not know what will happen next," he said.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.