Brexit negotiations center on Northern Ireland
Mariah Partin, Staff Writer
In 2018, the United Kingdom held a referendum on Brexit on the question of whether the United Kingdom should remain in or leave the European Union. Over 30 million Britons voted in the referendum and only just over 50 percent supported the decision to leave the EU. Newly appointed Prime Minister Theresa May listened to the people and triggered article 50, beginning the negotiation process for Britain to leave the bloc. Article 50 gives the U.K. two years to negotiate with the EU what they will have to pay, as well as decisions about other organizations and rules that are involved with being a part of the EU.
There is now just over a year left and the media in the U.K. is already speculating about controversy and second thoughts among pro-Brexit voters. Polls taken since the referendum have showed a small swing of voters now choosing to stay, but leaving the EU still has the majority. BBC Polling has predicted that the small increase to 49 percent of voters wanting to stay are probably from those who previously voted that they don’t know. Parliament is also divided in the decision for Brexit, so Prime Minister May does not have a “safe” majority.
Brexit negotiations have caused the pound to drop 15 percent against the euro but regained its losses against the U.S. dollar. Despite concerns of a doomed economy, the U.K. economy has estimated to have grown 1.8 percent in 2016 and the unemployment rate continues to drop. The U.K. and EU negotiating teams have been meeting to decide on the amount of the “divorce bill,” what Britain will owe the EU as well as what will happen to the Northern Ireland border, one of the main technical talks on the agenda.
Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party and Leader of the Opposition, has accepted the referendum result and said he would negotiate a permanent customs union with the EU, if he were to become Prime Minister. This would keep trade flowing freely and protect jobs, as well as ensuring there is not a “hard border” in Northern Ireland. This means no physical infrastructure like customs posts or surveillance cameras, but that will continue to be discussed. Among discussions is also the idea of Northern Ireland staying in an EU customs union, however, Prime Minister May is opposed to this. Northern Ireland voted on the referendum with a 56 percent majority wanting to stay in the EU, however much of this is because of the divisive nature of Northern Irish politics and the already hardened divisions between Catholics and Protestants. Another factor is the single market and customs, the EU single market allows the free movement of goods, services, money and people within the EU as if it were one country. Whether or not they will stay a part of the single market will be part of Brexit negotiations.
The U.K. has agreed that if no deal is reached then it will continue with the EU rules of the customs union and single market that are necessary for cross border cooperation and the protection of the island’s economy. EU nationals working in the U.K. will also be able to stay and continue working. One of the main wishes for Brexit was a reduction in immigration, Prime Minister May says a focus of Brexit negotiations will be reducing the immigration rate to below 100,000 a year. The main reasons for the U.K. wanting to leave the EU, among immigration, are the issues of many regulations on businesses, expensive membership fees with little in return and the desire for the U.K. to be making its own laws again.