Three years, seven months and eight days after Britons went to the polls and voted to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom officially left the Union this past Friday.
What is Brexit?
Ever since the UK first joined the EU in 1973 there has been some sort of movement to leave it. Britain held its first referendum on whether to leave the EU just three years after they joined. Brexit, the latest form, is a proposal for Britain to split from the EU, changing its relationship with the Union of issues ranging from trade to security to migration. The EU allows for free trade, free movement of goods, and free movement of people—citizens of any EU country can live and work in whichever member country they choose. With Brexit, the UK loses these privileges and has to negotiate new trade and migration agreements with the EU. This is a big deal considering Europe is Britain’s most important export market and its largest source of foreign investment, all of which are at risk depending on the agreement the UK strikes with the EU.
Why’d it take them so long?
After Britons voted to leave the Union back in 2016, Parliament gave the EU official notice that they were leaving in 2017. Under that notice, the UK was given two years to reach a deal and leave the EU, setting the official break up date as March 29, 2019. But the Parliament refused to accept Prime Minister Teresa May’s departure deal, causing the EU to push back the date to April 12. Parliament still couldn’t get its act together in those two weeks though and the deadline was pushed back to Oct. 31.
In the next seven months, May resigned after Parliament failed to pass her departure deal three times, and Boris Johnson became the new Prime Minister, promising to leave the EU with or without a deal by the deadline, saying that he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than to have to extend the deadline again. Johnson didn’t die in a ditch, but he did fail to get Parliament to pass an exit deal and the deadline was once again pushed back—this time to Jan. 31, the date where they eventually did actually leave the EU. Before that could happen though, Johnson convinced Parliament to host an early general election, which happened last December, giving the Conservative Party enough seats to finally pass a measure to leave.
What happens now?
Much of what happens now is unclear. The UK and EU have yet to strike a deal on what trade and immigration, among other things, will look like between the two blocs. They have until the end of this year to do so in a transition period, but in the meantime, major companies, including Sony, Airbus and Dyson, have announced that they are leaving Britain because of the uncertainty of Brexit and others have threatened to do so. What this agreement will look like is up for debate. May promised it would end the rights of people from elsewhere in Europe to live and work in the UK, building on growing fears of immigration, but that would be a two-way-street, preventing Britons from doing the same.
Trade deal negotiations will have to cover both manufactured goods and services. Agreements, in particular, will have to be made with the Republic of Ireland, which stands to lose the most of all EU countries if negotiations don’t go smoothly. Ultimately, the British government projects that in 15 years, the country’s economy will be down 4 to 9% regardless of what deal is made. If no deal is made in the next 11 months, Britain will end up leaving the EU with no deal—a scenario no one wants to have happen.