To Brexit Or Not To Brexit

Photo: Business Insider

Photo: Business Insider

Oliver Fisk, Staff Writer

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To Brexit or not to Brexit: what’s happened so far & what’s to come…

On June 23rd, 2016, the people of the United Kingdom took to the polls in order to determine their future. After being subjected to indefatigable and incessant campaigning and propaganda for months prior to the election, the 23rd of June was ardently anticipated as a day to finally get the whole ordeal over with, and a day to point the country in the right direction. To the surprise of many, a slight majority- 51.9%- of UK citizens voted to leave the European Union. The results of the referendum were tantamount to those of Trump winning the 2016 election: the well-educated sect of the country was distraught, while the lower, common classes were thrilled with the vote’s populist end-product. Moderate headlines dictated confusion and surprise, while tabloids had a field day.

            Since then, it is fair to say that the state of British politics has been characterized by chaos and confusion. Immediately after the vote, as he had been a proponent for remaining within the European Union, then Prime Minister David Cameron resigned. Theresa May was voted by the Conservative Party to take the helm of the country, and she then decided to call a snap-election to try to win more seats in Parliament. The move cost her, however, as May’s Conservative Party ended up losing their majority control in Westminster. In order to actually have a government, the Conservatives had to form a coalition with the DUP, the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland (They’ll be important later). In March, with control of the government, May invoked ‘Article 50’, a law that allowed the UK to officially begin their withdrawal process from the European Union. For almost two years since then, the negotiating teams of Prime Minister May and EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier have gone back and forth, tirelessly working to reach a legal treaty to allow for the completion of the withdrawal process.

This past week, the two sides finally reached an agreement, a legally binding 585-page document that covers a host of issues, namely: the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British nationals in the EU; the amount the UK will have to contribute to the EU budget (and for how long); the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland; and a transition period from 29 March until the end of December 2020, in which all EU rules and laws will continue to apply to the UK.

Chief among these contentious issues is the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Northern Ireland is a member of the United Kingdom but is home to a significant number of Irish nationalists who wish to see the total reunification of the island of Ireland. A guerilla conflict took place for almost thirty years towards the end of the 20th century which saw the six counties of Northern Ireland become home to constant violence and socio-political strife. The Good Friday Agreement signed in 1998 brought peace to Northern Ireland, but established certain terms that the British and Irish governments agreed upon. One of the terms of the agreement is that there cannot be a hard border between the two countries (like what exists between the United States and Mexico).

The issue of the hard border has serious implications in relation to Brexit. As the UK is withdrawing from the EU, it is also withdrawing from the European single-market and customs union. This means British businesses, and by extension Northern Irish businesses, are to be subject to different economic regulations than those of European Union countries, including Ireland. In order to avoid putting up a hard border in Northern Ireland to regulate trade between the EU and UK (and to avoid possibly starting up another war) in the withdrawal agreement, Theresa May agreed to a widely unpopular UK-wide backstop. The backstop is essentially an insurance policy that dictates that the entirety of the UK will remain a part of the EU customs union and single-market until the transitional period comes to a close in 2020.

Though the withdrawal agreement was passed by 27 European Union leaders on Sunday, it is incredibly unlikely that May will be able to get her deal through her own country’s parliament. May’s agreement is unpopular because it condemns the UK into membership of the European Union’s economy but does not give the British government a say on the economic laws that govern them, or as her opponents would suggest, the deal condemns the UK into vassalage. Additionally, the withdrawal agreement gives Northern Ireland specific regulations that differentiates the territory from the rest of the UK, an arrangement that the loyalist DUP party, whose votes Theresa May heavily relies on, is ardently opposed to.

May-day: Prime Minister Theresa May likely won’t be able to get her deal through parliament

Because of the DUP’s obdurate stance in opposition to the deal, it is unlikely that Theresa May will be able to conjure up a 320-vote majority in Parliament when it comes time to vote on the 15th of December, which will likely spell the end to her time in office.

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