Primer: Brexit

The United Kingdom has been a member state of the European Union (EU) since 1975, when it joined the European Economic Community (EEC, the EU’s precursor) in 1973. A referendum was held in 1975 with a 67% vote in favour of membership, despite objection from the Labour party.


In 2016, the UK held a referendum on whether to ‘Remain’ or ‘Leave’ the EU. ‘Leave’ won with a 51.9% vote in favour, with turnout at 71.8% and more than 30 million people voting. Despite the mainstream news media claims that Millennials voted overwhelming for ‘Remain’, no exit polling was conducted, so there is no evidence to support how Millennials voted.


The UK is scheduled to leave the EU at 11:00pm on Friday, March 29, 2019, with the end of the transition period on December 31, 2020.


Article 50


The Lisbon Treaty (2009) was signed by EU member states to make the EU "more democratic, more transparent and more efficient". Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon gives any EU member the right to leave the EU and outlines the procedure for doing so. Article 50 states the leaving country has two years to negotiate an exit deal, which cannot be stopped once set in motion, except by unanimous consent of all member states. Any exit deal must be approved by a “qualified majority” of EU member states and can be vetoed by the European Parliament.


UK Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 shortly before 12:30pm on March 29, 2017, meaning the UK has until April 2019 to officially leave the EU.


The UK wants negotiations to focus on future trade relations, with the plan for a two year "transition" period to smooth post-Brexit relations. Business leaders want the easiest terms possible, to prevent economic harm, but the EU’s intention is to create brutal conditions designed to discourage other states from also leaving the union.


Why Leave


Polls showed concern regarding national self-determination, not immigration, as the single most important consideration that encouraged people to vote Leave, or in favour of Brexit.


Leave proponents state the following reasons as to why Brexit is necessary:

  • The UK can reprioritize at home 350 million pounds per week that would otherwise go to the EU;

  • Control over the national border and migration, by leaving the Schengen Zone;

  • Opens the UK to free trade with the world, for more opportunities and jobs, which EU rules prevented;

  • Increased democracy, with UK lawmaking returned to citizens and their elected representatives;

  • The EU continues to expand, resulting in more money than the 350 million pounds per week going to the EU to support member states;

  • National borders and migration would remain uncontrolled;

  • The UK would be on the hook for future bailouts;

  • The European Court would remain in control of lawmaking.


Northern Ireland and the Northern Irish Backstop


Northern Ireland voted 55.8 percent in favour of the UK remaining in the EU, higher than the UK average.


The EU proposed that regulations in Northern Ireland should remain the same as in Ireland, so that there was no need for checks of any kind, which would result in a border in the Irish Sea, threatening the Union between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. EU-UK negotiators who drafted the March 19, 2018 Withdrawal Agreement outlined a December 8 Irish “backstop” arrangement, which effectively gives the European Union perpetual right to the economic annexation of Northern Ireland if it deems there is ever any regulatory divergence between North Ireland and the rest of the EU.


Both British and Irish governments have stated their commitment to preserving free movement and trade between north and south. A hard land border between the EU and UK could put Irish North-South relations under strain. The UK has said a backstop customs arrangement would be temporary and only in place until a future deal is introduced and expects a permanent future arrangement to be introduced by the end of December 2021.


What is the Chequers Plan?


On July 6, 2018, Theresa May and members of her Cabinet met at her country retreat Chequers to draft a Brexit deal to propose to the EU. Afterward, former Brexit secretary David Davis, Boris Johnson, Steve Baker, Maria Caulfield, Ben Bradley and Robert Courts resigned in protest following the Chequers meeting.


The Chequers proposals are unpopular with the UK electorate and have been formally rejected by the EU.


Two Years of Negotiations


At present, the following has been agreed to between the UK and the EU:


  • A guarantee of EU citizens’ rights;

  • The UK will pay over £40 billion to the EU with nothing in return;

  • The UK will remain in a customs union and forfeit control over tariffs, borders, money, and laws;

  • A transition period by which the UK would effectively remain in the EU for another two years with no say on laws or taxes, enforceable by the European Court of Justice;

  • Trade policy determined by the EU until at least 2022 and inability for the UK to pursue free trade deals;

  • If future trade agreement negotiations break down altogether the UK has agreed to remain in the customs union indefinitely, for the sake of the Irish border, making Brexit meaningless.


Looking Ahead to Key Dates


Mid-November 2018: Revised EU and UK deadline for agreeing a “divorce” agreement, which would then be passed to the EU and UK parliaments for ratification.


January 2019: Brexit ratification deadline.


March 29, 2019: Brexit Day and proposed start of transition deal.


December 31, 2020: Transition period ends.


January 1, 2021: The UK enters a new free trade deal and special treaty relationship with the European Union.

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