PM Theresa May has made some decidedly big promises for the future of the UK post-Brexit. Even though the ruling was declared final after the 2016 referendum, there were and are still many details that need to be hammered out before the UK will be able to leave the European Union. Here’s a breakdown of what’s what.
The UK will be out of the EU by March 2019.
There are still about 3.6 million EU nationals living in the UK, and an estimated 1.2 million UK citizens living in EU nations. The most pressing question after the Brexit decision concerned the preservation of their rights –after ties are severed, will EU nationals be allowed to remain in the UK, and vice versa? Will they be able to continue working?
So far the answer has been a lot of assurances that rights would be preserved, but very little description of what steps will actually be taken to do so. And this question keeps coming up, time and time again. The most recent development came this week, as a suggestion to force EU nationals to register with the Home Office was nixed. Critics from multiple parties called the plans illegal and would not be approved by the European parliament.
Another aspect of this issue lies in Scotland –the nation very nearly achieved independence in its 2014 referendum, and voted to stay in the EU in the 2016 Brexit referendum. Now Scotland is fighting to be allowed to remain in the EU, and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said she’ll hold a vote in late 2018 to the country’s parliament to determine if there will be another independence referendum. More issues can be found in Northern Ireland, which also largely voted Remain, where the issue of the long-contested border with the Republic of Ireland, an EU member, is being raised.
As of right now, no definitive progress has been made on arguably the most contested issue of the Brexit debate.
Future Trade Deals
May met with EU officials in Brussels last week to discuss trade relations, among other topics. Everyone agreed in regards to the need for speed and clarity in the talks, but that seems to be where the agreement ended. The discussion on just how the split will go down continued to be just as deadlocked as they were before the meeting; one of the main points of contention concerns financial obligations the UK previously made – estimated at anywhere from 60 billion to 100 billion euros. The UK has refused to pay this amount, and suggested other sums which the EU has rejected.
Though May seems optimistic, EU officials are saying much more needs to be done before divorce talks will be able to continue. There was even a report in a German newspaper saying May was desperate and ‘begging’ for help from EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, though both Juncker and May have denied this.
Most recently, UK officials seem to be calling for a deal similar to the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), the deal recently struck between Canada and the EU. It entails simpler importing and exporting with slashed tariffs, as well as making it easier for European firms to sell services in the country, according to a CETA factsheet. That deal, though, took seven years of negotiation and was very nearly derailed at the last minute by an unexpected veto. Still, it fits most with what the UK wants – trade relations without the EU Customs Union’s control (though this last part is under debate, as remaining in the Customs Union would allow for free trade within the EU, but not allow negotiations of deals with those nations that aren’t also members).
Specific guidelines on future economic relations are expected by December.
The continued conflict over trade deals leads to the next major issue: fears for the UK’s domestic economy. Specifically, how its national economy will fare once it leaves the EU’s Single Market. The single market sees the EU as a single state without borders, meaning goods, services and people can travel freely within it. If the UK leaves that, it’s hard to say how difficult relations could become.
And, according to many of the speeches May has made laying out the Brexit basics, the UK plans to leave the single market.
As mentioned in the previous section, no definitive deals have been struck about trade relations between the UK and the EU, meaning it’s not yet clear just how the economy will be affected. It’s not just a matter of migration, as many EU citizens have already left the UK in the wake of the Brexit decision – it’s a question of laborers, of university students, of highly-skilled directors and staff.
Directly after the decision, there were widespread fears of economic reprisal, fears which were largely assuaged as the economy has stayed stable in the months since. The pound fell dramatically following the vote, though, and currently £1 is equivalent to about $1.33. For the most part, projections show the economy will stay steady, but is likely to fluctuate as difficult negotiations continue.
Both the Labour and Conservative parties were against Brexit in the beginning, but changed their position after the referendum to support the decision of the British people. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has repeatedly expressed disdain at what he sees as the Prime Minister’s inability to produce details of the divorce process, and the party shifted in August of this year to support a ‘softer’ Brexit, which draws out the transition period and attempts to ease the shift out of the European market. The Conservative party, led by PM May, released a party manifesto planning a ‘hard’ Brexit; that is, the UK will completely leave the European Single Market and the Customs Union, take steps to reduce immigration (including migration of EU nationals) and fully allow the possibility of global trade deals.
For the most part, the British people are sticking firm to the decision they made in last year’s vote. Opinion polls show both those who voted Remain and those who voted Leave agree the process is proceeding with difficulty, and most seem not to be too hopeful about the future facing the UK on the other side. At 62%, a majority of Leave voters stick with the ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’ philosophy advocated by the Prime Minister, saying Britain should leave the EU in March as planned, with or without a deal.
Just after the Brexit decision, there was a notable spike in hate crime directed at EU citizens. A year on, emigration rose to a record high as immigration fell to a record low, driving net migration to – you guessed it – a record in itself: the lowest net migration since 2014.
So what’s next?
On the trade front, we won’t know until the promised plans are proposed in December.
As for the general outlook, May’s Sept. 22 speech in Florence, Italy, seemed to encompass the spirit of Brexit: a continuation of previous positions with a call for a two-year transition period, and a hearty promise to preserve and promote British values. The promised ‘no deal better than bad deal’ rhetoric made an appearance yet again.
But there was a change regarding just how hard ‘hard’ Brexit would be – now May’s stance seems to be that the UK would remain in the EU’s Single Market and Customs Union during the transition. This shift to mirror Labour’s position was met with ridicule from critics, and hesitance from allies expecting a definitive split.
And that seems to be the recurring theme of both May’s Brexit speeches and the negotiation efforts in general. Strong language and buzzwords like ‘implementation’ and ‘partnership’ flying in the face of the lack of detailed plans on just how the divorce is going to go through. There is a definite feeling of uncertainty among both the British populace and its politicians, one that doesn’t seem like it will be resolved anytime soon.