Brexit. It’s about as confusing, interesting, and unnecessary as algebra – but I’m going to write about it anyway.
And I’m not even going to waste time trying to be funny or using unnecessary sarcasm – there’s just too much to discuss. So here we go! Woohoo! (Ok, I lied about the sarcasm thing.)
Shit You Should Care About… Brexit
Brexit = Britains exit from the EU
Who’s involved exactly?
The UK: England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales
The European Union (a political and economic union of 28 member states that are located primarily in Europe)
Theresa May: The UK Prime Minister and Leader of the Conservative Party
Various other EU leaders that I am not going to waste your time by naming
What is this thing we call, ‘Brexit’?
In short, the UK voted in a referendum in 2016 to leave the European Union, where 51.9% of voters opted to leave.
No one knows exactly what the UK’s exit will look like. But we are getting there. In the 30 months that have gone by since the initial referendum, negotiations have bounced back and fourth between EU leaders and Britain, and finally, on November 14th, May presented her drafted withdrawal proposal (for the sake of this piece I’m going to call it the ‘divorce proposal’) (omg that’s an oxymoron.)
Anyway, the divorce proposal has made it through three out of the four steps necessary for it to be officially accepted. We will dissect the deal in a moment.
The four steps:
May’s deal had to be agreed to by EU and UK negotiators. Check!
May’s cabinet had to agree to the deal. Check!
The EU leaders had to agree at the Brussels summit. Check!
The deal has to pass through the UK House of Commons. We find out in December.
Mays Divorce Proposal:
May’s 585 word divorce proposal, which has just been agreed to by the EU leaders, seeks to address the major concerns of UK and EU citizens alike. It outlines exactly what the title says – how the UK will withdraw from the EU. The deal addresses things like:
The divorce settlement
This basically outlines how much the UK must pay the EU upon its exit. Right now this sits at a hefty £39 billion.
The transition period:
The transition period, if this deal is accepted, will begin as soon as the UK leaves the EU.
It’s basically a standstill where current trading arrangements between the EU and UK will continue, and so will freedom of movement of citizens. It gives time for new arrangements concerning the relationship between the EU and UK to be worked out, especially regarding trade. This transition period will last until December 31st, 2020 but can be renewed and extended one time.
The Ireland issue & the ‘Backstop:’
Possibly the most contentious negotiation point is the Irish Border and how to prevent it from becoming a hard (physical), or sea border between the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the UK.
Basically, Northern Ireland is part of the UK, and will therefore be leaving the EU along with the rest of the country, but the Republic of Ireland is not part of the UK, and will be staying in the EU.
While the UK was part of the EU, there was still an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, despite them being different countries, but there is now tension over how to preserve this open border in wake of Brexit.
The divorce deal contains one of Brexit’s now most favoured buzz words – the backstop. The backstop refers to the creation of a “single customs territory” between the Republic of Ireland and the UK, (this basically means the border remains open, even if the UK and EU don’t finalise border details in a post-Brexit deal.) But, the backstop is only a backup plan: it will only kick in should Britain’s future relationship with the EU fail to keep the border open.
Formation of a joint committee
Matters regarding the withdrawal agreement or “divorce proposal,” will be handled by a new joint committee with representatives from both the United Kingdom and the European Union. It will be responsible implementing the agreement, and to resolve any issues with its interpretation.
This is one of the most talked about areas of Brexit, especially for those living in the UK or EU. Mays divorce deal means an end of freedom of movement of people to work and live. So, the government will introduce a a skills-based immigration system, likely similar to the Australian points-based immigration model.
However, UK and EU citizens will not need visas to travel between EU countries for tourism or temporary business reasons.
Ahh. Trade deals. Let’s just let May speak for herself on this one. Her agreement says,
“The government insist that Britain will be able to strike its own trade deals around the world. We are allowed to work on the deals from 30th March 2019, but they won’t be allowed to come into force until after the transition period has finished.”
Ok, so that’s the deal on the table. But I’m still confused about why people voted to leave in the first place?
Same. But there are a number of reasons that people voted to leave the EU. Some of which are legitimate, and some can be seen as media ‘falsehoods’ to persuade the public to leave.
Sovereignty and decision making
So, UK citizens wanted to have total control over their country.
Nearly half (49%) of “Leave” voters said the biggest reason for wanting to leave the European Union was “the principle that decisions about the UK should be taken in the UK.”
Regaining control over immigration and borders
Movement of people was another major reason that people voted “Leave.” Increasing numbers of people were moving from other countries in the EU to live in the UK because of the free movement, but not enough were moving out of the UK and into the EU.
‘One third of leave voters said the main reason was that leaving “offered the best chance for the UK to regain control over immigration and its own borders.”
The notion that “the UK would take back control of roughly £350m per week.”
Doesn’t an extra £350m a week sound too good to be true? It is.
This claim has been determined by the UK Statistics Authority as “a clear misuse of official statistics.”
Before it was outed as a false claim, the money was promised to be invested into a long-term plan for the National Health Service (NHS), a public service that needs urgent attention in the UK. The problem with the notorious £350m figure is that it is a “gross” figure – it doesn’t take into account the money the UK gets back from the EU. Not only is the figure misleading, but upon further inspection it has been argued that Brexit may actually harm the NHS by possibly reducing the number of qualified staff because of the new immigration rules. But I’m no expert, so I’m going to leave this here.
A Brief timeline of events:
Then-British Prime Minister David Cameron promised to hold a referendum on Brexit if is his conservative party won the election, which it did.
On June 23, the referendum took place, with the “Leave” camp winning by a close 52-48% vote. Cameron, who was in the “Remain” camp resigned after the learning the results, and now we have current Prime Minister, Theresa May.
On March 29th, the government triggered “Article 50.” Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon allows any EU member state the right to quit and outlines the procedure for doing so. “It gives the leaving country two years to negotiate an exit deal and once it’s set in motion it can’t be stopped except by unanimous consent of all member states.”
Brexit negotiations are in full swing to reach an agreement before the deadline date of March 29, 2019.
November 14th: May proposes her “divorce deal” to the UK cabinet, who backed it.
November 24th: The draft withdrawal deal is agreed to by both sides at the Brussels Summit, which means that if the UK parliament votes for the deal (Step 4 in my above explanation), the UK will leave the EU and enter the ‘transition period.’
December 11: The UK House of Commons will vote for or against Mays divorce deal.
29 March: The UK leave the EU, whether a deal has been made or not. If the current deal doesn’t pass through the UK commons, it will be a “no-deal” situation, which I will explain later.
Provided a withdrawal agreement has been agreed on by all parties, the transition period begins.
“The moment of truth,” AKA The Brussels Summit, AKA Step 3/4
On Sunday, leaders from the current 28 EU member states (all except for Spain, who withdrew over last minute concerns over Gilbratar) met for an emergency summit in Brussels to finalise the deal regarding Britain’s departure. The leaders voted on two draft texts, which have been negotiated by both sides, where the results showed that they endorsed the Brexit deal.
The first text was the withdrawal agreement, or “divorce” deal, that you’ve just learnt about. The second document is the political declaration, which is 26 pages of non legally binding claims that set the terms for the UK’s relationship with the EU in the future.
But, even now that they’ve reached a deal, Brexit isn’t going anywhere fast (neither are the UK.)
But all that’s left is for May to pass the agreement through the house of commons, right?
In theory, yes. In practise, it’s not going to be so easy. By December 11th, when the UK government’s chief whip has confirmed that the House of Commons will make their “meaningful vote,” May has to have persuaded a politically divided country to collectively agree on her divorce deal. Easier said than done, I say.
There is pushback from the hardline “Brexiteers,” who just want a divisive exit from the EU. There is pushback from the Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn that has already rejected the deal under the premise that it doesn’t meet their required pillars for a “satisfactory Brexit,” whatever that is. There is pushback from the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland, and there is even pushback from May’s own government, (after she secured cabinet approval of her draft deal, two top Cabinet ministers quit in protest and several other junior members also stepped down.)
Basically there is pushback from everyone.
May is most likely going to travel around the country and campaign to “ordinary people” about it, the EU are probably going to make the claim that this deal should be accepted as it’s “the only deal on offer,” and May might even get some foreign leaders to chime in and speak on behalf of the deal.
But, the alternative is: no deal.
“One of the very curious things about British politics as it stands now is we face one of a number of very implausible outcomes. We might have an election. We might have a referendum. We might have no deal. The prime minister’s deal might be accepted.”
Anand Menon (director of an independent Brexit research institute called UK in a Changing Europe)
If this divorce proposal – which has been in the making for 30 months – isn’t accepted, the negotiating team either have 3 months to think up a brand new deal, or there is no deal. Don’t get me wrong – this means Brexit still happens – just with nothing in place. And the consequences of this will be catastrophic:
“EU citizens living in the UK and 1 million Britons living in other EU countries would lose all automatic rights and protections overnight. Air travel in the UK would grind to an immediate halt. British supermarkets could run out of food. Garbage would pile up. And those are just a few of the dire scenarios possible.”
So, we will know whether May’s divorce proposal is passed through the House of Commons (Step 4/4) by December 11th. But as you all know now, Brexit is going to happen deal or no deal – literally.
Ugh. Wasn’t it so much easier when Brexit was just a term for leaving brunch early?