Brexit: A Summary of Chaos
Updated: Jan 6
In 2016, three and a half years ago, Britain voted to leave the European Union and the term Brexit was born. Recent global events may seem to have put things slightly on the back burner. In fact, with the UK due to leave in five minutes, on Friday 31st January 2020, our departure - or the structures for enabling it - are even more critical. For anyone that's still confused, here's a brief summary
How did Brexit come about?
The term Brexit was coined during Greece’s departure from the Euro (Greece = Grexit; Britain = Brexit). For a host of different reasons, but mainly political and economic, many people wanted Britain have sovereignty over its own affairs, unfettered by EU rules and regulations.
After much lobbying by various factions, including the then UKIP leader Nigel Farage, it was agreed to have a referendum for people to vote. This was held on Thursday 23 June, 2016 to decide whether the UK should stay or go. Over 30 million people voted in a 70% turnout, with the result being that the leave vote won vote by 51.9% to 48.1%. Consequently, we would no longer share a common membership with other EU countries.
What is the European Union?
The European Union – or The EU – is an economic and political partnership of 28 European countries. It was formed as part of the after effects of World War Two, the rationale being that countries trading together were less likely to wage war against each other.
Currently, the EU single market has made it easier for both goods and people to move freely around its member countries. It even has it's own currency, the euro, it's own parliament, with rules that cover consumer rights, environment, transport, and other areas.
Which are the EU countries?
At present, the EU countries are: Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Republic of Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden and the UK.
When the UK leaves at the end of this month, that number will become 27.
Did all of the UK vote to leave?
No, around the UK the votes were split as below.
Northern Ireland 55%.
Scotland in particular is still very angry that they are tied to the UK's decision despite their own majority leave vote.
Have we left yet?
We've had various dates. We were previously scheduled to leave at 11 pm on Friday, 29 March 2019. It didn’t happen. Currently, the new date is 31st January 2020. In December 2019, new Prime Minister Boris Johnson passed legislation which prevented anyone else from extending the new date for leaving.
Ireland will be in the EU and Northern Ireland will be in the UK.
Are there any sticking points?
Plenty. They are what helped to see off Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May, who was sent scuttling between London and Brussels in her many attempts to hash our a feasible 'divorce' settlement. One of the main issues was, and remains, the Northern Ireland backstop.
What is the backstop?
When Britain leaves the EU, Ireland will be in the EU and Northern Ireland will be in the UK. That means the border between them would be akin to two separate, international countries trading.
The backstop is the safety net for Northern Ireland to reduce the need for checkpoints, customs posts, and surveillance cameras and any disruption to the free flow of people between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
It would keep Northern Ireland aligned to some EU rules on certain products and standards. That would prevent the need for checks on some goods (not all) at the Irish border.
After Brexit the UK will represent a much smaller market than when it was part of the EU, which substantially will reduce its power in trade negotiations.
The list is endless. One concern is the possibility of a temporary single customs territory, which would effectively tie all of the UK to the EU customs union. If future trade talks broke down without a deal, the backstop would end only with the agreement of both the UK and the EU.
Many MPS worry it could leave Britain tied to the EU indefinitely, while unable to negotiate trade deals with other countries.
At present, the UK’s EU membership allows it an ‘in’ on about 40 trade agreements with more than 70 countries.
Would a no-deal be such bad news?
Yes. In order to avoid job losses, price raises and cuts to public spending, the economy needs to grow; or at least remain stable. Most experts already anticipate it will shrink as international businesses pull out of the UK or change their plans to come here. Leaving the EU on no-deal would mean having to negotiate new and individual trade deals around the world. The problem is that after Brexit the UK will represent a much smaller market than under its EU membership. This will considerably reduce its power in trade negotiations.
The UK would sever all ties with the EU with immediate effect. There would be no honeymoon period; no guarantees on citizens' rights of residence, be it they were EU citizens living here, or British citizens living in EU states. This could also cause significant disruption to businesses, creating delays in clearance of goods at channel ports, and other customs. Certain foods and medicines would be affected.
At the rate of global developments, returning would have to be something that is thrashed out as a matter of urgency. Alas, the likelihood of that happening probably shares the same odds of finding a four-leafed clover.
Would trade with the EU continue?
Without an agreement, the UK would trade with the EU under World Trade Organization rules, which covers 164 member countries. At present, the UK’s EU membership allows it an ‘in’ on about 40 trade agreements with more than 70 countries. If it leaves the EU with no deal, the UK would have to will have to review all of these and more.
Could Brexit be cancelled?
Yes. But it would mean changing the law in the UK, which is something none of the major parties want to do. The good news is that the EU has agreed – at present – that Britain could return any time in the future. But at the rate of global developments, returning would have to be something that is thrashed out as a matter of urgency. Alas, the likelihood of that happening probably shares the same odds of finding a four-leafed clover.