Brexit and the EU
The people of Britain voted for a British exit, or Brexit, from the European Union (EU) in an historic referendum on Thursday June 23, 2016.
The outcome was celebrated by Eurosceptics within Britain and on the European continent, while sending shockwaves through the global economy. After the result was declared, the pound fell to its lowest level since 1985. David Cameron resigned as Prime Minister of the Conservative Party on 13 July 2016 and resigned his position as MP on 12 September the same year.
Prime Minister Theresa May
The new Prime Minister Theresa May plans to trigger Article 50 by the end of March 2017. Article 50 is the step that starts the timer on two years of Brexit talks. If this happens, Britain will leave the EU by March 2019.
One of the longest-serving home secretaries in British history, May backed remaining in the EU, though she is known to hold Eurosceptic views and did not take a prominent role in the campaign. On becoming Prime Minister she stated: “Brexit means Brexit, and we are going to make a success of it. There will be no attempts to remain inside the EU. No attempts to rejoin it by the back door. No second referendum. The country voted to leave the European Union, and as prime minister, I will make sure we leave the European Union.” Mrs May has confirmed that Britain is leaving the single market to regain control over immigration and end the supremacy of EU laws.
The UK Supreme Court upheld a High Court ruling that there must be a Parliamentary vote before triggering Article 50. MPs overwhelming voted for the Brexit bill that will authorise the use Article 50. The bill passed through the House of Lords where Europhile peers tried unsuccessfully to seize the opportunity to try and block Brexit. By mid-March 2017, The EU Withdrawal Bill was set to be passed after peers voted not to challenge the Commons again over the rights of EU nationals. MPs rejected calls for the government to protect the status of EU nationals within three months of the start of Brexit talks and then dismissed calls for Parliament to have a meaningful vote on any Brexit deal.
On the day of Brexit, the Great Repeal Bill will come into force and end the supremacy of EU law over Britain’s own legislation.
Other national political parties reaction to Brexit
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn won a leadership contest against MP Owen Smith, who had pledged to block Brexit if there was not another public vote.
Scottish National Party (SNP) leader Nicola Sturgeon will move to hold a second referendum on independence from the United Kingdom, blaming the UK Government’s lack of compromise over Brexit.
The Spanish Government has called for joint control of Gibraltar.
Sinn Fein has demanded a vote to unite Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Pro-Brexit UKIP leader Nigel Farage called for June 23 to be a bank holiday before announcing in the summer that he would be stepping down. Paul Nuttall has now replaced his successor MEP Diane James, who resigned after just 18 days in the job.
How long will it take for Britain to leave the EU?
No one knows with any certainty how the Brexit process will work since Article 50 has never been used. Former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, now Chancellor, has suggested it could take up to six years for the UK to complete exit negotiations as the terms of Britain’s exit need to be agreed by 27 national parliaments. Agreements on forty-three years of treaties and agreements also need to be agreed. The post-Brexit trade deal is likely to be the most complex part of the negotiation since it needs the unanimous approval of more than 30 national and regional parliaments across Europe, some of whom may want to hold referendums.
EU law still stands in the UK until it ceases being a member. The UK will continue to abide by EU treaties and laws, but not take part in any decision-making.
Focus of negotiations between the UK and EU
Theresa May has made it clear the UK is not intending to stay in the EU’s single market. This would have meant the UK staying under the protection of the European Court of Justice and having to allow unlimited EU immigration.
‘Soft” and ‘hard’ Brexit
Though no clear definition, the terms ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ Brexit are used to refer to the closeness of the UK’s relationship with the EU post-Brexit.
A “hard” Brexit could see the UK refusing to compromise on issues like the free movement of people in order to maintain access to the EU single market. A “soft” Brexit has Britain as a member of the single market, accepting free movement of people.