Brexit day is fast approaching, with the UK on track to officially leave the European Union in less than two weeks. If you’re new to Rachel Husson’s Brexit series, no worries, here are the basics, the EU’s perspective, a view of the craziest week of 2019, what Brexit means for Ireland, and what it means for students. Also, don’t forget to test your Brexit knowledge by taking our quiz!
What has happened over the last couple of months?
Since the last time you read the series, some events worth mentioning took place in the Brexit saga. After the European Council agreed in late October on an extension of Brexit’s due date, an early general election was granted by the British parliament (438 votes in favour, 20 against). This election occurred on the 12th of December and the results set several strong statements. First, the Conservative Party, led by Boris Johnson, won a comfortable majority of 364 seats of a total 650 (against 203 seats for the Labour Party, and 13 for Lib-Dem Party). Therefore, it seems that the 2016 referendum’s results were not a “mistake” after all. The second statement was made by Scottish electors. Out of the 59 seats in Parliament granted to Scottish constituencies, 48 were swiped by the Scottish National Party (SNP) – who campaign for Scottish independence within the European Union.
Five days before Christmas day, Johnson’s EU Withdrawl Agreement Bill was presented (again) to the House of Commons, which passed after two readings. From there, the Agreement had to be transposed in British law. A “transposition” bill was drafted and passed the Commons on the 9th of January by 330 votes against 231 and the UK is now expected to finally meet the latest Brexit deadline.
The text of the Withdrawal Agreement is now in the hands of the House of Lords, where the Government has no majority. So, this should be interesting. If the bill gets the Lord’s approval, then the Queen will have to give her royal consent. Normally, this should just be a formality. But we have to keep in mind that the European Parliament also has to vote the deal before Brexit can officially happen. If everything goes on track, Brexit will happen on the 31st January. For 11 months, the UK will still follow all the EU’s rules and regulations, it will remain in the single market and the customs union and the free movement of people will continue. The challenge for the UK will be to get all its new rules and policies in place by the end of this year.
The UK and the EU will enter a new phase of negotiations about their new relationship. The stake is huge because they’ll have to agree on a “partnership” for future decades. Let’s be honest, 11 months (until the 31st of December precisely) to deal with that kind of negotiations is really short. Look how long it took them to reach the leaving deal. Of course, Johnson doesn’t want any delay. But you know it, loyal reader, the British PM has said that before, and look where we are – the initial exit date back in Halloween seems like ages ago. However, this time Johnson is so committed that his promise was enshrined in the bill passed on the 9th. No extension should there be. He has said that he’d rather have part of a deal than ask for a delay. So, you get it correctly, a no-deal Brexit is still a possibility.
Knowing that, Ursula Von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, said that the period of time they have is “very very tight”, not long enough to cover every topic, so they will have to prioritise. The Prime Minister of Croatia, which currently has the presidency of the Council of the European Union for 6 months, agreed and wish to work first on trade and fishing.
Nevertheless, prioritizing doesn’t mean compromising. On one hand, the EU recalled on several occasions that it will not consent to anything that would damage its own integrity, common market or customs union. On the other hand, Johnson expressed that he wouldn’t allow any kind of alignment on the EU’s regulation nor would he accept staying in some way under the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction. The British PM wants to “maintain control of UK fishing waters and [its] immigration system”.
Review on Scotland and Northern Ireland
The call for a second referendum on Scottish independence made by Nicola Sturgeon, Scottish PM and leader of the SNP, was formally rejected by Johnson who sees a second vote as a “political stagnation” that would impact Scotland “because of a campaign to separate the UK”. “It is time that we all worked to bring the whole of the United Kingdom together and unleash the potential of this great country”, he added. The PM claims that by refusing he respects Scots’ democratic decision: the 2014 referendum was promised to be a “once in a lifetime” occasion and set Scotland to remain in the UK. But one could argue that the situation has changed since 2014. It seems understandable that Brexit made a difference… According to the SNP, the Conservatives are afraid of the results if the vote took place in the pro-Europe nation. The full answer of the Scottish Government is expected to arrive by the end of January. Stay tuned…
With the New Year came great news for Northern Ireland: a new executive is in place after three years of talks. Called “New Decade, New Approach”, the 62-page deal was published by both British and Irish Governments and set out guidelines and commitments for the new executive. This agreement comes after Northern Ireland was really divided on the December UK general election: 8 seats in Westminster for Unionists (DUP) and 9 for Nationalists (7 for Sinn Fein which practice abstentionism, meaning they refuse to sit in London, and 2 for the SDLP). Would Northern Ireland be inspired by Scotland? It’s not that easy, mainly because it’s not the same situation. Scotland wants its independence, when in the North the idea would be about changing the Parliament they answer to, talking about “Irish unity”. Under the terms of the Good Friday Agreement, for such a vote to be called, the initiative must come for the British Secretary of State when they think the majority of the Northern Irish population would support Irish unity. One may argue that some elements point to that. If Northern Ireland’s choice was to leave the UK, then the Irish Republic would have to vote on that Irish unity too. Surveys have shown than 51% of the Irish population is in favour of this unity. Short advance, especially when you think of the margin of error. It appears clear that the whole island is deeply split on the matter… The post-Brexit daily life and the future deal may help some islanders to fold one way or another.
It seems to me that the UK’s History might be made in the next few years…
Photo by Jannes Van den wouwer
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