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Understanding Brexit:The culmination point for Britain

What is the meaning of Brexit?

Brexit refers to the amalgamation of two abbreviated words i.e. Britain and exist. Brexit refers to Britain's exit/withdrawal from the European Union which is the largest political and economic bloc of 28 states (now 27) of Europe. Even though Brexit officially took place on 31st January 2020, there are several things that need discussion in terms of law, citizenship, and trade during the transition period. The transition period refers to the post-Brexit time until 31st December 2020.

Introduction: History and Dilemma of Britain
Britain has been airing it's doubts and assessing various pros and cons of being a part of the European Economic Community. It has always been skeptical of being a member of the European Union that eventually led to its first referendum on membership in the European Community in the year 1975, within two years after it first joined. At that moment, 67.2 percent of voters supported staying in the European Community. But that was not the end of the dispute in the bloc.

In 2013, the idea of another referendum questioning Britain's membership in the European Union was rehashed by Prime Minister David Cameron. The main aim of this referendum was to put Britain's predicament to an end for once and for all. The options offered to the voters were in rigid dichotomies- remain or leave. The results of the referendum poll were to be enabled through the European Union Referendum Act, 2015 [i]and Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, 2000. [ii]

The British Conservation Party was the ruling party at that time and wanted the European Union to confer a special status on Britain. Prime Minister David Cameron wanted to renegotiate Britain's terms with the European Union than to promote engineering a one-way exit from the EU. Mr. Cameron was certain that the majority would be swayed by people voting to remain a part of the EU, however, his assumption turned out to be a serious miscalculation. On 23rd June 2016, withdrawal from the bloc hailed with support of 52 percent of voters.

Trajectory and Evolution of the European Union

The predecessor of the EU was created in the aftermath of the Second World War.[iii]

The European Economic Community (EEC) was founded in the year 1958 to promote economic cooperation between Belgium, Germany, France, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands. The underlying aim of the EEC to was endorse economic interdependency on each other to avoid any chance of future conflict among them.

With time 22 other European Countries joined this huge common market community. Eventually, other topics like climate change, population, health facilities, security, migration, and welfare of the people were also brought into the ambit of EEC. Since EEC was no longer a community that solely dealt with economic issues anymore it was only justified to rename it to imitate the change. In the year 1993 European Economic Community was renamed to the European Union with 28 member countries as its part.

On 31st January 2020, nearly after 4 years of the referendum, United Kingdom left EU officially. Now the European Union is an exclusive political and economic merger between 27 countries that together cover a predominant part of the continent and yearns to accomplish its goals.

Goals of the European Union:

  • Stability, common currency, and transparency
    "The EU has delivered more than half a century of peace, stability, and prosperity helped raise living standards, and launched a single European currency: the euro. More than 340 million EU citizens in 19 countries now use it as their currency and enjoy its benefits.[iv]
     
  • Schengen Area
    Due to the elimination of border controls between EU countries, people have the liberty to travel without hindrance throughout the continent. This has made the lives of people easier and has also made working, traveling, and living in Europe a cakewalk for them. EU citizens not only have the independence to choose the country they want to study, work, or retire in but are also entitled to receive equal treatment from all the member countries. No country in the European Union can discriminate among citizens and must treat every citizen in the same way as its own citizen for employment, social security, and tax purposes.
     
  • Common Economic market
    The EU's main economic objective is to promote the common market. The concept of common market empowers people, goods, ideas, money, and ideas to move freely within the continent. The Union knows the power of having a common market which is why it intends to develop this huge reserve to other areas like energy, knowledge, and capital markets to ensure that people of Europe can draw the maximum benefit from it.


Britain's reasons to leave the European Union:

  1. Actions by EU thwart Britain's sovereignty
    In the past few decades, a number of treaties have lifted powers from individual members and handed them over to the central EU bureaucracy in Brussels. In majorly all the situations especially the ones where EU is an approved authority (like competition law, copyright, and patent law) the rules established by it would supersede the national laws of the member countries. In these situations, Britain rather feels threatened and fears that all its main powers lie in the hands of the European Union.
     
  2. European Union is burdening Britain with ludicrous regulations
    Eurosceptics also highlight how onerous and absurd certain rules inside the European Union are. Guidelines stating how children below 8 need adult supervision while blowing latex balloons (under Toy Safety Directive[v]), EU energy-saving regulations determining the power of vacuum cleaners by banning anything above 1,600 watts [vi]or preventing Britain from modifying lorry sizes to prevent cycle deaths on London Streets can be exasperating for anyone. Britain despite being one of the superpowers of the world is restrained and mocked due to such abusive control by the European Union.
     
  3. Euros dismal performance
    Since the British aren't a part of the common economy it has little to lose as compared to other member nations. Nevertheless, the bad performance of the Euro has been an important factor among people to opt-out from the EU. The fact that Spain and Greece are still suffering from the recession that hit them in the year 2008 is enough reason for Britain.
     
  4. Access extended to immigrants
    One of the most common reasons for public disgruntlement in Britain was the access that was extended to immigrants under the EU laws. People in the European Union are free to choose any country where they intend to travel, work, or retire and this particular law was creating a rift between Britain and the EU. Since people from many countries with poor economic Eurozone were flocking Britain in search of better opportunities. The impact of this rule was first noticed during the 2008 financial crisis where a number of migrants came to Britain in search of work. This in turn has turned Britain into a hub for immigrants where their own people are finding it difficult to compete with these people. Another fear among the citizens was also how immigrants might take upon the scarce public services/resources.
     
  5. The exorbitant amount of money being sent to the European Union
    The member countries are expected to make donations in the form of an annual fee to facilitate the smooth performance of the European Union since the EU does not collect taxes directly from its members. In the year 2018, Britain alone contributed £13.2 billion after receiving a rebate of £4.2 billion. Only £4 billion out of this amount was used for the UK, making it's net contribution nearly £9[vii] billion which why people feel that the British parliament should have direct control over this money and should have the power to decide how and where to spend this money to ensure greater benefit.


Reasons why Brexit was opposed:

There were a lot of reasons cited by the opponents of Brexit for the stand they had. Many knew that since the EU was UK's largest trading partner, withdrawing from the Union would not only affect the trade but would also affect the trading laws of the country since they were drafted on guidelines laid by the EU.

Another reason why nearly 48 percent of the population was anti-Brexit was due to the benefits of four-freedoms of the EU.: free movement of goods, services, capital, and people across borders. Thus, it is safe to infer that in both the arguments people were fearful of the economic repercussions of Brexit and did not want the economy of the UK to get disrupted due to a hasty one-time decision.

Havoc of Brexit referendum on Britain's politics:

The immediate effect of the Britons Brexit poll was the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron who first initiated the plan of a referendum and campaigned for the U.K. to remain in the EU. Theresa May was chosen as the leader who would replace Prime Minister David Cameron. On 7th June 2019, Prime Minister Theresa May too stepped down as a party leader.

The main reason behind her resignation was due to her inability to negotiate a desirable deal with the European Union which was approved by the House of Commons. It is pertinent to mention that she tried thrice to negotiate the desirable deal and failed which subsequently led to her resignation. The following month in July, Boris Johnson, a former Mayor of London, foreign minister, was voted as prime minister.

In September 2019, the Members of the Parliament introduced a new law which was presented by Hilary Benn of the labour party with an aim to prevent Boris Johnson pushing through a Hard Brexit (no-deal Brexit). Under the ‘Benn Act[viii]' aka ‘Surrender Act', the Prime Minister was required to request a three month Brexit delay by 19th October 2019. He complied and had to send the extension request letter after the Members of Parliament failed to approve the new Brexit deal introduced by him.

To put the excessive discussions in the Parliament to an end Boris Johnson tried to manoeuvre the whole situation by asking the Queen to prorogue the Parliament for a period of five weeks. The Supreme Court of the UK ruled that the decision of proroguing the Parliament was unlawful and had adverse effects on the ability of Parliament to perform its functions. [ix]It further stated how the Prime Minister had no reasonable ground to suggest The Queen to prorogue the Parliament and resumed the normal sitting.

In a span of three years, Britain not only experienced three different leaders but also experienced a state of turmoil with prorogation. This only reflects on how instable the political scenario was post-referendum.

A long journey: what took Brexit three years

After the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal[x]) bill received the Royal Assent in March 2017, with the help of this new legislation Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the European Union's Lisbon Treaty, [xi]which is a legal process to voluntarily depart from the European Union. The initial date when Brexit was destined to occur was set on 29 March 2019.

But this date was delayed twice when Theresa May was unable to attain the assent of the Members of the Parliament for the deal she had negotiated. The hard-line pro-Brexit lawmakers wanted to leave the whole façade of the common market and wanted to be done away with the rules and regulations, however, Theresa May's agreement defeated the whole purpose of it altogether. They did not want Britain to be trapped in the European market which is why Theresa May's negotiated deal was rejected again for the third time after which she resigned. This made the new Brexit date 31st October 2019.

When Boris Johnson took charge of Britain in July he promised to get his country out of this chaos by the given deadline, with or without a deal. But opposition party's lawmakers and some rebels of his party were adamant to block a hard-Brexit. A hard-Brexit refers to a withdrawal from the EU without any favourable deal which could help them cushion the abrupt blow.

Boris Johnson himself needed an extension after the Members of the Parliament failed to approve the revised deal within the deadline pushing the new to date to 31st January 2020.

On 31st January 2020, Britain officially exited the European Union, and the 'Department for Existing the European Union' which was the official government department created to manage UK's departure from the EU was officially closed.

The consequences of Brexit:
For European Union:
The Brexit vote has garnered a lot of support from other countries and has encouraged the formation of anti-immigration parties in them. There are several countries that support anti-immigration policies so to limit flocking by migrants. If these parties harvest enough backing in France and Germany, then they can force an anti-EU vote. If either of those countries left, the EU would lose its healthiest, flourishing economies and would eventually be forced to dissolve due to the less credibility.

For Britain:
Trade- while the U.K. is officially out of the European Union, it is now in a transition period where it is on the path to renegotiate the rules with the EU. During this period, it will not have a say in EU policy, but will still need to abide by the core rules of EU guidelines. The U.K. now must negotiate its entire trade relationship with the EU, its predominant trading partner, by January 1, 2021, or apply for a re-extension on July 1, 2020.

If it doesn't, then it will suddenly be subject to a new set of rules change and tariffs as it suddenly falls out of the EU single market and customs union; the scenario of "no-deal" Brexit. In this worst-case scenario, the UK will have to apply to the World Trade Organization. However, the UK will have to abide by the set norms and standards of WTO which in turn will push it away from EU norms and standards hindering the UK's ability to sell services to EU countries.

Citizenship- the Withdrawal Agreement allows for the free movement of EU and U.K. citizens until the end of the transition period. Following the transition period, they would keep their residency rights if they continue their jobs, have resources to suffice, or are related to (spouse, kids, etc.) someone who does. To upgrade their residence status to permanent, they will be required to apply at the host nation provided they've been living there for 5 years.

In case of no-deal Brexit, citizenship might be taken away abruptly leaving many people stranded in the middle of nowhere. This is very unlikely since both the EU and UK are giving priority to the citizens. EU citizens and their families who have been living in the UK for a span of five years or more can apply for "settled status", which allows them to stay in the UK for as long as they wish.

Any child born in the UK to a mother with settled status will automatically become a British citizen. 'Settled status refers to the status of citizenship where the person can work, use National Health Services, claim pension, and have access to various benefits extended to the citizens. However, this transition might not be easy since EU legislations will no longer apply to the UK. The UK government has also stated how EU law will be converted into domestic law via the Great Repeal Bill and thus, it depends on how the EU and UK negotiate the rights of their citizens.

Financial Settlement- while the Withdrawal Agreement might not mention the exact sum that Britain is expected to pay, but it is estimated to be up to £32.8 billion depending upon a number of factors like exchange rate and EU budgets. [xii]

The total sum includes the financial contribution the U.K. will make during the transition period since it will be acting as a member state of the EU and its contribution toward the EU's outstanding 2020 budget goals and will also receive funding from the EU as if it were a member. The main principle behind this is to ensure that no member country suffers because of the UK's withdrawal and to make UK fulfil all its commitment to the EU.

The Irish backstop- The nature of the Irish border post-Brexit has been a major point of debate in negotiations between the British government and the European Union. A large number of details of the Withdrawal Agreement haven't been finalized in regard to Northern Ireland Protocol.

However, both the EU and UK are certain that hard border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland isn't an option. Both U.K. and EU negotiators share concern over the consequences of reinstating border controls, as Britain might be compelled to end freedom of movement from the EU.

Yet leaving the customs union without imposing customs checks at the Northern Irish border or between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain leaves the door wide open for smuggling. [xiii] This momentous and complicated task is one of the crucial reasons for advocating ‘soft Brexit' to ensure that things are favourable for both. In other words, the Northern Ireland conundrum may have created a back door for a soft Brexit.

Challenges ahead of Brexit:
The transition period has been created to provide both sides with some breathing space while new rules and regulations for trade are being negotiated. This is required because the UK will leave the single market and customs union at the end of the transition. A free trade agreement will allow goods to move in the EU without checks or extra charges.

If a new agreement cannot be decided and agreed upon within time, then the UK faces the risk of having to trade with no common deal in place. That would mean tariffs and other charges on UK goods travelling to the EU and other trade barriers.

Apart from trade, there are many other aspects of the future UK-EU relationship which need to be pondered over these are:

  • Common law
  • Data sharing
  • Aviation standards and safety
  • Determination of access to fishing waters
  • Distribution of electricity and gas
  • Medical standards and licencing


Prime Minister Boris Johnson has vouched that the transition period will not be extended, however, the European Commission thinks otherwise and with the outbreak of the Corona Virus epidemic, things are likely to become difficult and complex.

End-Notes:

  1. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2015/36/pdfs/ukpga_20150036_en.pdf
  2. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2000/41/pdfs/ukpga_20000041_en.pdf
  3. https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/eu-in-brief_en
  4. https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/eu-in-brief_en
  5. https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/MEMO_11_698
  6. https://ec.europa.eu/info/sites/info/files/commission_guidelines_ecodesign_requirements_for_vacuum_cleaners.pdf
  7. https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/governmentpublicsectorandtaxes/publicsectorfinance/articles/theukcontributiontotheeubudget/2017-10-31
  8. https://www.instituteforgovernment.org.uk/explainers/benn-act
  9. In the case of R Miller V Prime Minster- https://www.supremecourt.uk/cases/docs/uksc-2019-0192-judgment.pdf
  10. http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2017/9
  11. https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A12012M050
  12. https://commonslibrary.parliament.uk/research-briefings/cbp-8039/?doing_wp_cron=1592402626.9907069206237792968750
  13. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/b/brexit.asp

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