Brexit: The dilemma continues

Menna El-nakib, Wednesday 28 Oct 2020

The confusion of Brexit from "Should it go? Or should it stay?" to compromising with minimum loss

A Pro EU campaigner rests her banner and Halloween EU flag decorated hat on the pavement outside a conference centre where EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier is in a meeting, in Westminster in London, Wednesday, Oct. 28, 2020. Barnier is in London to resume talks over post Brexit trade agreements. (AP Photo)

European Union chief negotiator Michel Barnier resumed talks in London with his British counterpart on Tuesday 27 October, as the two sides try to strike a last minute trade agreement less than 10 weeks before the United Kingdom leaves the block's orbit. 

Brexit started in 2016 when the UK voted in a referendum to leave the EU, plunging the UK into political chaos. The motion passed by 52 per cent, with England and Wales primarily voting to leave, and Scotland and Northern Ireland voting to stay.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who led the campaign to remain, resigned shortly after the results were announced.

"Brexit means Brexit and we will make a success of it," said Theresa May after winning the Conservative Party's leadership. Showing her support to Brexit, May announced in the conservative party conference that she will trigger the EU's article 50, which states: "Any member state may decide to withdraw from the Union, in accordance to its own constitutional requirements, shall notify the European Council of its intention. The union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with the state, setting arrangements for its withdrawal, taking to account the framework for its future relationship with the Union."

In 2017, the conservatives lost their majority in a general election, and May was forced to a deal with the Northern Irish Unionist party to stay in power. In September, Theresa May suggested that the UK propose a two year post-Brexit transition period to discuss key issues with the EU.

In July 2018, UK Brexit Minster David Davis and other ministers resigned after failing to reach a consensus on the technicalities of Brexit; Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson took Davis' place the following day.

In September, May was given the cold shoulder by EU leaders at a summit in Salzburg, accusing her of "double cherry-picking" when she refused to compromise on key issues in future UK-EU trade.

In November, a deal was struck on the UK's exit terms. It was signed off by leaders of the other 27 member states at a summit in Brussels, but needed the approval of the UK and European Parliaments to go into effect. The agreement was sealed after May adapted her Brexit plan to include an all-UK customs union with the EU, called a backstop, to settle on the controversial border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.

In 2019, the UK House of Commons voted against three exit deals proposed by the government due to differences on the Irish backstop, after which May resigned her post as prime minister and Boris Johnson was appointed in her place.

Boris' government then sent a new Brexit deal to Brussels that included the removal of the backstop, however it was rejected by the EU three days later.

In October 2019, the UK applied for another extension until January 31st 2020. The UK's general elections were then held in December, where Johnson's conservatives won an 80 seat-majority.

At the start of 2020, the UK's withdrawal bill became law after a relatively smooth passage through parliament; and the European Parliament approved an exit deal. An 11-month transition phase then began, running till December 31st, 2020. Most arrangements were to remain the same as both sides face a race against the clock to sort out the future of an EU-UK relationship.

In recent weeks, The UK and the EU have been hoping to reach a "zero-tariff" agreement to ensure a mutually profitable trading relationship once the UK's post-Brexit transition ends.

In the case that no deal is reached, both parties will operate on World Trade Organization rules, with the imposition of tariffs being possible. "There is very little time left to bridge significant gaps between Britain and the EU on sticking points about the Brexit trade deal," said PM Boris Johnson's spokesman.

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