Abstract: On June 23rd 2016, 51.9% of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union which then came to be known as Brexit. The U.K. invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which provides both sides with two years to agree on the terms of exit. What progress has been made thus far and what are the possible outcomes in the future?
There are several reasons as to why many British people voted in favour of leaving the E.U. These include issues pertaining to trade, economics and open borders across E.U. member states, known as the Schengen zone. Brexiteers felt that British industry was being curtailed by the E.U. single market and customs union. The United Kingdom is the second largest economy in the E.U. and fifth largest economy in the world. The U.K. is also one out of nine E.U. member countries that do not use the Euro as its national currency and instead uses the pound sterling, which has a stronger purchasing power parity than the Euro. Ultimately Brexiteers sought to reclaim the partial loss of British sovereignty to E.U. decision-making bodies, including the unelected European Commission, the Council of Ministers, and European Parliament.
The Brexit referendum was a polarizing event, which galvanized both those who voted for the U.K. to remain in the EU, and those who sought to leave. Despite the majority voting to leave the European Union, there has been an ongoing debate on what Britain’s relationship with the E.U. would look like post-Brexit.
A hard Brexit, favoured mostly by ardent Brexiteers, would see the United Kingdom regain full control its borders while completely abandoning the customs union and the single market of the EU. A hard Brexit would, however, allow the U.K. to negotiate its own trade deals and draw up its own rules and customs arrangements with other countries. This would also mean that the U.K. would most likely have to fall back onto the World Trade Organization for rules of trade. A hard Brexit would also see tariffs applied to British goods and services within the European Union, although President Trump highlighted the possibility of negotiating a free trade deal with the United Kingdom post-Brexit. On the other hand, a soft Brexit would result in the U.K. remaining as a close ally of the E.U. While the U.K. would no longer be represented on the European Council and the European Parliament, it would still have access to the E.U. single market and customs union. For example, Norway enjoys the privileges of the EU single market through the European Economic Area Agreement even though it is not a member-state of the EU.
While the Brexit negotiations have largely been focused on trade and diplomacy there is another issue at hand: borders. The Irish – UK border has been equally polarizing, and could be described as one of the main roadblocks preventing Brexit negotiations from moving forward. The U.K. has only one land border (on the island of Ireland between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland) stretching nearly 500 000 km and with roughly $7.7bn USD in trade crossing it each year. Both the U.K. and the E.U. are against a hard border, although each party has different interpretations of this. The E.U. insists that Northern Ireland must remain apart of the E.U. customs union, while Britain argues this is an impossible feat as Northern Ireland is part of the U.K.
On November 14th 2018, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May released a draft agreement of the terms of Brexit. The deal was slammed by Eurosceptics, including U.K. Brexit Secretary Domonic Saab, who argued that he could not accept May’s draft deal in its current form as it does not respect the promise of Brexit that the country voted for in 2016. Another conservative minister, Jacob Rees Mogg also expressed outrage towards Prime Minister May’s draft deal outlining that he could not think of a worse deal, largely because the draft keeps the U.K. under the thumb of the E.U. without representation. The Brexit draft was also scrutinized by key UKIP founder, and U.K. Minister for the European Parliament Nigel Farage, who suggested that the draft is “the worst deal in history,” as that the U.K. was conceding too much influence to the E.U. Meanwhile U.S. President Donald Trump called it “a great deal for the E.U.”
The nearly 600-page Brexit draft outlines the general process of withdrawal from the E.U. These include rights of E.U. citizens in the U.K. and vice versa, the Irish backstop, and the £39bn divorce deal, a financial settlement demanded by the E.U. as the U.K. leaves the bloc. To resolve the thorniest issue regarding the border issue, the draft deal outlined that the U.K. will remain part of the E.U. single market and customs union. This was met with fury by steadfast Brexit supporters who suggested that it will leave Britain shackled to E.U. regulations, but without a voice in the European parliament. Another key issue that Brexiteers felt neglected their interests is U.K. cooperation with the E.U. regarding foreign and security policy. The E.U. is only offering cooperation, rather than membership to Europe’s security bodies, such as Europol, and Eurojust, and the U.K. will not be able to have access to the European Union’s £8bn Galileo satellite programme, despite the U.K. paying over £1bn throughout the years as an E.U. member.
Moreover, there is also the possibility of a ‘no deal’ Brexit. This would be unfavourable to both parties as it would signify a poor relationship, and would largely force the World Trade Organization to intervene in trade deals between the U.K. and the E.U. This would of course heighten concerns of 1.3 million U.K. citizens in the E.U. and the 3.7 million E.U. citizens in Britain. There would also be the unresolved issue of the Irish backstop, which lawmakers fear could be used as a loophole to avoid trade tariffs, although the U.K. government believes this could be prevented with border patrols and increased technology.
On January 15th 2019 May’s draft Brexit deal was struck down once again in the British Parliament in a record-breaking defeat by 230 votes. This means the U.K government will have to return to Brussels to negotiate a new draft deal, one which addresses the Irish backstop. In the meantime more conservative MPs are starting to rebel against Prime Minister Theresa May. Amid the Brexit rejection in parliament, Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn tabled a no confidence vote against Theresa May, which she narrowly survived. This is the second vote of no confidence against the British Prime Minister, the first of which she won back in December 2018 with a larger margin of 83 votes. The narrower margin in the most recent vote signifies that more Tory MPs are beginning to rebel against May. As the March 2019 Brexit deadline draws near, the British parliament is eager to negotiate a deal that will honour the promises made during the original Brexit referendum.
Featured image: England Europe Brexit United Kingdom Domino EU (2016). By: Max Pixel. CC 2.0
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