Joseph Meakin reports on Britain’s ultimate exit from the European Union after three years
Last Friday at 11pm the United Kingdom officially left the European Union. The day came three and a half years after the 2016 referendum on membership of the EU, in which 52% of the voting population backed Brexit, and more than four decades after the UK originally joined, on 1st January 1973.
There were scenes of both celebration and commiseration up and down the country. In London, government buildings were lit up in the colours of the Union Flag and Brexit supporters joined Nigel Farage and other prominent Brexiteers for a party at Parliament Square. A clock face projected onto 10 Downing Street (complete with pre-recorded chimes) made up for the silence of Big Ben (which is currently undergoing renovations) at 11pm.
Meanwhile, a smaller group of Remain supporters held a candlelight vigil outside the EU’s new London embassy, a stone’s throw away from Parliament Square. There were demonstrations, too, outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh in protest against Brexit, something which Scotland’s electorate did not support.
As a result of Brexit, British MEPs will no longer sit in the European Parliament, nor will Britain participate in any of the EU’s other political institutions. New blue passports, too, will be issued, which will no longer make any reference to the EU since British citizens no longer hold EU citizenship.
However, with regard to other aspects of our relationship with the EU, little has changed as of Friday. The reason for this is that the UK has entered what is called a ‘transition period’.
During this eleven-month period, which is scheduled to end on 31st December 2020, the UK will seek to negotiate a new relationship with the EU. According to the Conservative Party’s election manifesto at the last election, the government hopes for a free trade agreement which would see the UK exit the European single market and customs union.
In the meantime, the UK will continue to be bound by EU law – despite no longer having any say in its creation – and will remain a member of the single market and customs union. The UK will also remain part of the EU’s security co-operation arrangements, whilst freedom of movement and citizens’ rights will be unchanged.
Securing a deal on the future relationship within the proposed time frame is not expected to be an easy task. This begs the question of whether there could be an extension to the transition period. Whilst there are provisions within the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement to extend the transition period by up to two years, the government has ruled this out – even proposing legislation to outlaw such a scenario.
Therefore, if no deal is agreed by the end of the transition period (and the government maintains its red line on not countenancing an extension) the UK, with the exception of Northern Ireland, could end up trading with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms.
During this transition period, the government also aims to secure trade deals with other countries across the world. There is much hype surrounding a US-UK free trade agreement, with US Secretary of the Treasury, Steven Mnuchin, speaking of his hopes for an agreement by the end of the year in a recent visit to London.
Thus, whilst last Friday saw the completion of our withdrawal from the EU, it marked the beginning of the process surrounding Britain’s future relationship with the bloc.