On the midnight of 31 January 2020, the United Kingdom formally withdrew from the European Union, beginning an 11 month transition period that ends on 31 December 2020. This has come after 3 and a half years of futile haggling after the infamous 2016 Brexit referendum. During this period, the current situation will remain the same for Britons as the U.K. will remain in both the EU customs union and single market. A transition is required for more trade negotiations to occur between the EU and the U.K. government.
Reuters termed this as “its biggest geopolitical shift since the loss of its sprawling empire”. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson heralded Brexit as an opportunity for “renewal and change” for the country. He expressed his confidence in the British public, stating “I know that we can turn this opportunity into a stunning success.” President of the European Council, Charles Michel commented on the withdrawal by saying “Of course, we have lukewarm feelings about what is happening, but what is the dominant feeling for me is that it’s important to look to the future of the European project.”
During this tentative arrangement, it is of utmost importance that a U.K.-EU trade deal can be agreed upon to minimize the economic damage already inflicted on Europe’s economies. U.K.’s pound sterling has been weak and volatile since 2016 but currently, observers are optimistic that the economy can recover, albeit not to its former glory. Brexit creates more questions for U.K. citizens; two of the biggest and most debated being Irish unification – Northern Ireland currently belongs under the Union Jack while the independent Republic of Ireland is a member of the EU – and Scottish independence – the Scottish National Party recently requested for another independence referendum to be held but it was turned down by Westminster. With so much on the line, Britain seems to be destined for its downfall.
Ex-PM David Cameron promised to hold a referendum on the U.K.’s EU membership if the Conservative party secured the reelection in 2015. On 23 June 2016, the Cameron administration held the referendum and the pro-leave camp won by a close margin, gaining 52% of the votes. The pro-leave campaign was marred by accusations of racism, xenophobia, and fear-mongering. The Vote Remain campaign, generally portrayed in the media as the reasonable side, had problems with accusations that the EU membership only benefitted urban areas such as London and South East England while leaving the rest of the U.K. left in the lurch. Indeed, most of these urban areas voted to remain because the tangible benefits of EU membership could be felt there. There have been two exchanges in power since Cameron left office following the results of the vote. Theresa May took over the role of Prime Minister in July 2016 and began a three-year term until she was ousted from the role due to her struggles to gain approval for her proposed Brexit deals. Boris Johnson came in power in 2019 and has been a major force in pushing for Britain to leave the EU since the 2016 referendum.
Europe has always been a divisive issue for the British public with strong opinions on both sides. To some, Brexit is a geopolitical disaster that will only bring ruin to the whole continent. To others, it symbolizes a new and free U.K. that is not required to navigate the complicated maze of EU legal and political infrastructure. No matter what view one holds, Brexit is well underway and we can only hope that British and European leaders can make the right decisions during this long and arduous process.
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