The Future of Brexit
With the resignation of Theresa May, the race for Prime Minister of the United Kingdom is heating up. Boris Johnson is the frontrunner for head of the Tory Party, and thus the office of Prime Minister as well.
If Johnson becomes Prime Minister as expected, then he has until October 31st, 2019, to reach an agreement with the European Union. In all likelihood, the EU will either force the British to accept the existing proposal or go for a “hard-Brexit.” Johnson has stated that he will pursue a “hard-Brexit” from the EU.
If Johnson continues to hold this “hard-Brexit” position, the weeks until October 31st will be filled with political drama.
Britain has been trying to leave the European Union for more than three years now. Yet, the situation has not been resolved. Why hasn’t the United Kingdom departed the European Union by now?
The Original Referendum
The main push for a referendum to leave the EU only came after the rise of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), which was led by Nigel Farage. Farage criticized the bureaucracy of the EU and its supposed mishandling of the “migrant crisis.”
By 2014, the UKIP was starting to compete with the Conservative Party’s voting base. To deal with this, David Cameron, the Prime Minister at that time, decided to hold a referendum on June 23rd, 2016. By doing this, Cameron hoped to demonstrate that the notion of Brexit was unpopular, hence destroying the momentum of the UKIP.
Ironically, the referendum was never channeled as an actual dispute between the UK and EU. Instead, the Brexit supporters focused on the ruling elites’ policies of free-trade and immigration. To the surprise of many, the referendum actually succeeded, and it quickly became clear that nobody had prepared for that result.
The Immediate Aftermath of the Referendum
Following the referendum, Nigel Farage resigned as leader of the UKIP, Prime Minister Cameron resigned, and Theresa May assumed the Prime Minister’s position unopposed. Even though she had opposed leaving the EU before the results of the referendum, she promised to “observe the will of the people,” and follow through with Brexit.
Yet, what sort of Brexit? A total Brexit with a fully sovereign United Kingdom, or a partial Brexit in which the United Kingdom maintained most of its relations with the European Union? These questions set up the distinction between “hard” and “soft” Brexiteers, or those who wanted to fully leave the EU and those who wanted to maintain existing relations as much as possible.
May Triggers Article 50
After assuming office, Prime Minister May pursued a “soft-Brexit.” This course meant that the UK would stay in the Common Market, while maintaining the free movement of people and goods with the EU countries.
With approval from Parliament, May triggered Article 50 in March 2017, which formally initiated the withdrawal of the UK from the EU. With the hope of gaining more support in Parliament, May called for a snap general election in June 2017. Unfortunately for her, this backfired, and instead strengthened the anti-Brexit parties, creating a hung Parliament.
By 2018, the “Chequers Plan” had been developed, which would have created a new association agreement for Britain with the EU. It would put the UK in the status of “most favored” nation with the EU, importantly retaining British access to the Common Market. This plan was rejected by the EU negotiators. Ironically, the developer of the plan, Boris Johnson, the man now vying for the PM position, resigned after the plan was submitted.
Originally, the deadline for completion of the Brexit agreement was two years from March 2019. However, both sides agreed to a postponement of seven months when an agreement had still not been reached by that time.
The elections for the European Parliament held on May 23rd, 2019, created even more instability. Nigel Farage led his three-month-old Brexit Party to achieve 31.6 percent of the vote, more than any other party in Parliament.
The Brexit Party’s performance indicates that at least a plurality of British voters desire a complete break with the EU. The Conservative Party, on the other hand, was the big loser in the election, receiving 14.8 percent less of the vote than they had received in the previous election. Consequently, Prime Minster May announced her resignation.
If Boris Johnson receives the nomination of the Conservative Party, it will up to him to reach a settlement by October 31st. If no accords are reached, the result will be tumultuous for international affairs to say the least.
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