Written by Nicholas Walker on February 11, 2019
It is quite likely by now that most people who are interested in politics, both in Europe and the rest of the world, are at least vaguely aware of Britain’s intention to leave the European Union. I say “vaguely” because although Brexit has certainly headlined the news numerous times in the past two years, the debates and negotiations surrounding it do not appear to be understood by a considerable portion of the public. It’s not that the average person is too stupid to understand the politics of leaving the EU; rather, it would seem that the average person has simply got better things to occupy themselves with – and who can blame them?
If we are to be honest, the only aspect of Brexit that sees Leavers and Remainers in agreement with one another is the fact that its handling has been a disaster from the very beginning. But why has Brexit been such a mess, and what can we expect in the coming years?
In June 2016, The United Kingdom held a referendum on EU membership, which was narrowly won by the “Leave” side. Leaving a supranational organization, however, is not as simple as holding a vote on membership, as the UK soon came to find out – a deal has to be negotiated between the two parties.
Broadly speaking, there are two options for the UK – either a hard Brexit, wherein Britain would leave the EU’s single market and customs union; and a soft Brexit, wherein it would remain in the single market and customs union.
On the 25th November 2018, the UK and the EU agreed on a 585-page agreement to withdraw. On the 15th January 2019, however, Parliament emphatically voted to reject this agreement, 432-202, marking the most comprehensive defeat for a British Prime Minister in the House of Commons in recent memory.
There are a number of potential paths forward for the United Kingdom and Theresa May to take:
- On the 16th January there will be a confidence vote on May’s position as British PM. If she were to survive, she would have an additional few days, until the 21st January, to negotiate extra concessions with the EU – effectively a plan B.
- Moreover, she could potentially ask the EU to postpone Britain’s exit, thus giving the House of Commons more time to reach an agreement.
- If she were to not survive a confidence vote, however, we could see another general election take place, something which would likely throw the UK into further political, social and economic uncertainty.
- May could call for another referendum on EU membership, something which would likely not go down very well with Brexiteers who would lose faith in the democratic process. It is important to keep in mind that Parliament also has the ability to impose a second referendum.
The bottom line is that if a deal is not passed before the 29th March, Britain would face a rather disastrous exit from the European bloc. Of course, alarmism is rarely a positive outlook, but the clocks are ticking, and important decisions need to be made.