My friends and family in England reported many fireworks and much celebrating among the pro-Brexit British citizens on the evening of Jan. 31 as the United Kingdom finally divorced Europe – three years and seven months after the British voted to do so.
The land of my birth was bitterly divided by this issue and the vote to leave was by a narrow margin. Remember that since the vote in 2016 there have been two delays to Brexit and two general elections.
The prime minister and leader of the Conservative Party, Boris Johnson, won a large majority in December’s election, meaning that he had a big enough government majority to proceed with Brexit. Most people in the U.K. – from both sides – were sick of the delays, and simply wanted clarity and to move forward with a new era.
Many people were concerned about the opposition party’s talk of ignoring the legal referendum of 2016 and somehow fudging this important issue or holding yet another vote to try to get a different result outraged many people, including the ones who voted “to remain.”
Tempers were running high between what was derogatorily described by the opposite sides as “Little Englanders” (those who wanted Brexit) and the “Remoaners” (a pun on those who voted to remain in Europe and were complaining about the result).
So what next, now that the divorce and the celebrations are behind the U.K.?
The reality is that between now and the end of 2020 there is a transitional period with current rules and regulations applying to trade agreements – tariffs and product standards; immigration – with the recruitment of foreign workers a major concern.
There’s also the subject of access to the U.K.’s fishing grounds by the European Union (which now has only 27 member nations).
Interestingly and very significantly in light of the troubled history between Ireland and Great Britain, there had to be a compromise regarding the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to get Brexit done.
In total, Northern Ireland consists of six counties:
Antrim, Armagh, Down, Fermanagh, Londonderry and Tyrone, which are part of the United Kingdom. The rest of Ireland makes up the Republic of Ireland, which remains in the EU and has used the euro as its sole currency since 2002 (the U.K. never joined the euro but kept its own “sterling” currency of pounds).
In essence, this complex compromise means that Northern Ireland will keep the same custom rules as the rest of the EU & so custom checks won’t be needed at the border. The whole of Ireland is about the same size as the U.S. state of Maine. However, some checks will have to be conducted on goods entering Northern Ireland, across the Irish sea from the rest of the U.K.
There are concerns that this will lead to pushing Northern Ireland closer to the Irish Republic. Ireland only achieved independence from Britain in 1921 after their five-year long and bloody war of independence.
This didn’t end the struggle and terrorism in Ireland and the U.K., which cost many lives between 1969 and 1998’s “Good Friday agreement.” There is more information at history.com.
Anyway, back to the Brexit process. The political situation over the pond is still very interesting, with lots to play for.
Both U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michael Barnier are setting out their opening gambits.
The U.K. is saying that in Brexit’s “Withdrawal Agreement,” the EU gave the green light to a Canadian or Australian type of trade deal on all goods – which is pretty favorable to the U.K. These countries are also former British colonies which peacefully separated from Great Britain in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and are still members of the Royal British Commonwealth.
However, the EU is stating that higher tariffs should apply because the U.K. is much closer to the European market geographically than Canada or Australia. Naturally the EU does not want to give the U.K.
broad access to a market of 450 million European consumers with zero tariffs or quotas now that the U.K. has left the EU.
The European Union now views the U.K. not as a member but as a competitor. You can see why Brexit has been described as a messy divorce!
I will leave you this week with a quote from Boris Johnson: “This is not an end, but a beginning.
This is the moment when we really begin to unite and level up our country. We want this new chapter to be about being both a great European power and truly global in our ambitions.
“And whatever the bumps in the road ahead, I know that we will succeed. We have obeyed the will of the people. We have taken back the tools of self-government. Now is the time to use those tools to unleash the full potential of this brilliant country and to make better the lives of everyone in every corner of our United Kingdom.”
I hope he is right.
God bless America and the United Kingdom in their new chapter!