Brexit Update

Anwen Burns, ‘19

Sometimes in America it’s hard to remember that things are happening in the rest of the world as well when everything feels so overwhelming here. Do you remember Brexit, that hot topic from 2016 that made us all feel just a little bit better about America’s 2016? That’s still a thing, and come  March 29th, 2019 at 11pm, the United Kingdom will no longer be part of the European Union.

To quickly describe what happened in 2016: David Cameron announced a referendum in the UK  on whether or not the UK should leave the EU as there was growing support for more protectionist policies for the United Kingdom. Cameron thought that the referendum would end with a stay vote, so he ordered everyone in his cabinet to not even think about creating a plan for the possibility of a leave vote. We now know that Cameron was wrong, and he ended up stepping down as Prime Minister. After a long and scandal filled race for prime minister including Boris Johnson being betrayed by his friend Michael Grove when Michael decided to leave Boris’ campaign and run for PM himself, and a dramatic apology from Andrea Leadsom to Theresa May and a subsequent step down from the race by the former, Theresa May ultimately won the seat of Prime Minister. For those of you who do not understand how a parliamentary system of government works, the party that holds the majority gets to vote within itself for who will be the Prime Minister. The people vote in their representatives, and the representatives vote for the PM.

Let’s catch you up. Right after Brexit there were two options: a soft Brexit and a hard Brexit. In 2016, a soft Brexit where the UK could negotiate a deal with the EU and still keep it’s cozy relationships with EU countries appeared realistic. A hard Brexit seemed like a scary but distant thought; the UK leaves the EU next year with no deals and an uncertain future. Fast-forward to today in 2018, and it has become increasingly likely that a hard Brexit will be a reality.

Over the past two years it has become glaringly obvious that it is very hard to rewrite over fifty years of agreements in two years. On July 12, 2018 the United Kingdom published the Chequers Plan. This was a plan outlined by the Prime Minister and her cabinet in Chequers, therefore named the Chequers Plan or the Chequers Agreement. This plan outlines what the UK wants the divorce agreement between them and the EU to be. The plan calls for: the UK maintaining a common rulebook for all goods with the EU, including agricultural products, after Brexit, a treaty would be signed that commits the UK to continuation with EU rules which avoids friction at the UK-EU border, which includes Northern Ireland, parliament would oversee the UK’s trade policy and have the ability to choose to diverge from EU rules, arrangements would be made between EU and UK competition regulators, and different arrangements would be organized for services where it is in the interest of the UK to have flexibility. In short, the plan would allow the UK to keep the parts of the EU that they liked, and throw out the bits they do not.

The biggest problem that there is with the Chequers Plan is that the EU hates it, and the right-wing Brexiteers hate it. The Brexiteers argue that it is not drastic enough for them, they campaigned on the idea of a full Brexit, and were promised that when May took office. The right-wing of May’s party was so upset, that the Brexiteers who were a part of her cabinet resigned in protest over the Chequers Plan.The EU in turn believes that it gives the UK too much freedom, and the head negotiator for the EU, Michel Barnier, called it “illegal” as it would give a third party country (the UK) access to their borders. Neither party is willing to back down and that is creating tensions and the worry that a hard Brexit is the only solution.

What is now apparent to anyone affected by Brexit is that it was marketed to be much simpler that it is, and a hard Brexit is imminent. That is much scarier than it sounds. Trade agreements take years to make and perfect, and some people in the UK cannot wait that long. For example, the UK does not make insulin for diabetic people, they import it. On March 30, 2019, if there is a hard Brexit, there will be no trade agreements between the UK and other countries that make insulin, and they will not be able to import it leaving thousands of people to die. To combat that, the government is stockpiling goods like insulin and groceries just in case. They are only stockpiling a few months worth however. Another example is anyone who lives and works in the UK, but owns an insurance policy from a country outside of the UK. Those people will be completely uninsured if a hard Brexit goes into effect.

To be fair, no one can predict the future. There is not one person who truly knows what will happen on March 30, 2019. Will planes be grounded? Will there be enough food for everyone to eat? Will there be cell service and power to homes? These are questions that the government is trying to help people understand the answers to with “no-deal notices”. The government has been releasing one of twenty-eight notices per week, as to not alarm the citizens. They range from air travel to cell phone prices during a no deal Brexit.

The nuances of this issue require more than just one article to report. There is still the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, where at some parts of the border there is no indicators of moving from one country to another which is extremely complicated and tricky to navigate. One thing to take away from this article however is that Theresa May is holding onto her PM spot by a thread. She is facing opposition within her party, and at the time of the article being written, has not been challenged but has the threat of a leadership challenge. Many within her party have indicated that they will not sign a Brexit deal if it were based on her previous Chequers deal.

There is no doubt that the UK will eventually be fine after Brexit. It is only a matter of how much time after Brexit will the UK take to thrive once more.