In 2016, on Thursday 23 June, 30 million Britons went to the polls in a referendum to vote if they wanted to stay in the European Union or leave.
With a turnout of 71.8%, the leave voters won 51.9% to 48.1% of remainers. This became known as the Brexit (shortened for Britain and Exit).
Leading up to the referendum was the 2015 general election and the UK Independence Party, who for many years campaigned for Britain’s exit from the EU.
The campaign got the support of nearly half of the Conservative Party MPs (members of Parliament) which included Boris Johnson and another five members of the Cabinet. Joining them were a handful of Labour MPs, the DUP and the Northern Ireland party.
The Brexiteers reasons for leaving the EU were:
- Immigration, being a member of the EU means ‘free movement’, there are no visa requirements to live or work in another EU country. They want to take back control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming to Britain to live and work.
- The EU was working to form a closer union with EU member states and create a ‘United States of Europe’.
- The EU imposed too many rules and regulations, holding Britain back. They want to make their own laws again.
- Membership fees are billions of pounds per year with little in return
Leader of the Conservative Party, Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 on the 29 March 2017. This gave the UK 2 years to transition leaving the EU, which would be on the 29 March 2019. In a letter to Donald Tusk, the EU council president she outlined her plans.
Article 50, created as part of the Treaty of Lisbon, is an agreement signed by all the 28 European countries who are part of the EU. It provides a plan for any country that wishes to leave the EU.
One year later in March 2018 in a speech in Florence, Italy, she spoke of the kind of trading relationship the UK wants with the EU after Brexit in a transition period.
After negotiations with the EU and coming to a tentative agreement, Theresa May put the withdrawal agreement to Parliament.
To date, the agreement has been rejected thrice by the MPs, during which an extension of Brexit was granted by the EU till the 12 April 2019. Theresa May then sought for another extension which has been granted until October 2019.
One of the major sticking points among members of parliament in the House of Commons is The Backstop. This involves the 310-mile border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. After Brexit, this will become the land border between the UK and the EU.
In the backstop agreement that was agreed between Theresa May and the EU, Northern Ireland would be subject to some EU rules like goods standards and food products. This would do away with the need for checks at the Irish border on goods. However, goods brought to Northern Ireland from the UK would be subjected to new checks and controls.
The backstop was agreed between the Theresa May and the EU as a safety net of sorts, so that no matter the outcome of any future trade talks, there would be no hard border between the UK and the EU. The backstop would do away with checkpoints, customs posts, towers and surveillance cameras at the Northern Ireland border.
MPs in the UK who have been voting down on this deal feel that this will tie them to the EU giving them no say over the rules, indefinitely. Plus they won’t be able to strike trade deals with any other countries.
This agreement is hotly contested by the MPs who can’t agree on a solution.
The EU single market was designed to allow member states a free trade area with free movement of services, goods, money and people boosting trade, creation of jobs and lower prices. However, products are needed to comply with technical standards so the EU passed a law enforcing compliance by all members.
Now, some critics say it robs members of having control over their own affairs with too many petty regulations. It also brought into question the free movement rule with mass migration.
Britain’s economy since triggering article 50
Dire predictions of the immediate economic crisis were made by David Cameron, Chancellor George Osborne and other senior figures if the UK left the EU.
So how is the economy doing since the UK triggered Article 50?
The predictions were wrong:
- The UK economy according to statistics has grown 1.8% in 2016 and has continued to grow up until 2017 at the same rate. However, in 2018, it slowed to 1.4%
- Unemployment is at a 43 year low of 3.9%
- There has been a steady fall of 8.2% of annual house price increases in June 2016 with 0.6% in the year to February 2019
- On the day after the referendum, the pound sterling slumped, and is currently 10% down against the US dollar and against the euro is trading 10-15% down
The slump in the pound has boosted the exports of goods from the UK, making it cheaper for people in other countries to buy. While UK citizens traveling abroad, find that their pound is worthless.
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