Brexit Part 1: The Story Thus Far

Headlines in the world of politics and economics alike have been dominated by the continuing disputes and controversies surrounding the Brexit negotiations. In the following two-part series, we will break down the key points of the Brexit events thus far, followed by future predictions and the associated ramifications. 

Brexit resulted out of a referendum voted upon on Thursday, 23 June 2016 on whether the United Kingdom should exit the European Union (EU). In short, the EU is an economic and political partnership made up of 28 nations that acts as a single market allowing for free movement of goods and people between member nations. The shared currency, the euro, is used by 19 of the member states (Eurozone). Additionally, there is a shared parliament as well as specific rules regarding environment, transport, consumer rights and more. 

With a voter turnout of 71.8%, ‘leave’ won with 51.9% to 48.1%. As a result, at 11pm UK time on Friday, 29 March 2019, the UK is expected to exit the EU. The period between the referendum and the planned exit date is designated to agreeing upon a deal for the future relations between the UK and the EU. The ‘transition’ period refers to the period after 29 March 2019 until 31 December 2020. This window will allow businesses and people to adjust to the new conditions as well as agreeing upon the details of the final arrangement. 

The deal most recently voted upon was negotiated between Prime Minister Theresa May and the European Union, the first draft of which was submitted in November 2018. The deal consists of two main parts, a 585-page withdrawal agreement and a 26-page statement on future relations. The former covers such topics as the UK’s existing debt towards the EU (an estimated £39bn), as well as matters of UK citizens residing in the EU. The latter is a non-legally binding agreement to sketch out the long-term relationship between the EU and the UK regarding matters of trade, defence, and security. In January, following five days of debate, this deal suffered the biggest defeat of government policy since 1924, losing in parliament by an astounding 230 votes, (432 votes against to 202 in favour).

The withdrawal agreement’s most contentious provision, and the primary cause for its defeat in parliament, were the terms regarding Northern Ireland. Labelled the ‘backstop’, it would take effect near the end of the transition period if by then no solution had been found to prevent a ‘hard’ border on the island of Ireland. This last point is a matter of a long, complicated period of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland, but as it stands currently both Britain and Ireland are members of the EU. This means that goods flow freely between Ireland and Northern Ireland, with no need for customs checks. As this ‘soft’ border could collapse under the Brexit agreement, with the two parts of Ireland being in separate customs and regulatory systems, the backstop will act as a safety net if no deal is agreed.

To prevent a guarded, physical ‘hard’ border from returning and maintaining the currently experienced trade order in the region , the backstop provision would (if no other solution has been found by 2022) bind the UK to a customs union with the EU. For all intents and purposes, this would leave the UK at the mercy of EU customs regulations. 

Following this defeat in parliament, Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, has called a motion of no confidence for Wednesday, January 16th. Such a vote states that a person in a position of power (in this case Theresa May’s government) is no longer fit to serve in that position and will be removed as such. On Wednesday, this vote failed to remove the current government from power, and it is unlikely that Labour will pursue further motions to dislodge the existing Prime Minister. The possibilities from here, which will be discussed in more detail in the next part, have been closely mapped out below by BBC.

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Kariem HafezComment