UK to leave EU on Jan. 31
Brian Messing, Editor-in-Chief
After years of uncertainty and delays, Brexit is set to happen on Jan. 31 at 11 p.m. Greenwich Mean Time. Following the result of the referendum in 2016, some pundits predicted that Britain’s exit from the European Union would be disorderly and may not even happen at all. Indeed, after multiple extensions and three rejections of the withdrawal agreement, Britain has finally secured terms to begin its transition to leave the 27 member bloc.
In many ways, the uncertainty deepened before it was alleviated. Following former Prime Minister Theresa May’s failure to guide her deal through the House of Commons, the ruling Conservative Party elected Boris Johnson to succeed May as Conservative Party Leader and Prime Minister. Johnson’s campaign focused on renegotiating Theresa May’s deal with the EU, and above all “getting Brexit done.”
The so-called “Irish backstop,” a mechanism that could see the U.K. forced to follow EU regulations, in order to prevent a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, was considered a major road-block for British politicians, particularly the conservatives and proponents of Brexit. Johnson’s revised deal, eliminates the back stop by allowing a regulatory border to be placed across the Irish Sea, allowing the rest of the U.K. to leave the EU completely, but obligating Northern Ireland to follow EU regulations and pay EU customs. Despite this, Northern Ireland will still remain de Jure inside of Britain’s custom jurisdiction.
Johnson’s deal passed the House of Commons back in October on its second reading, with the support of Opposition MP’s. However, only his own party, which lacked an overall majority at the time, supported the expedited timetable to implement it before Oct. 31, 2019, Britain’s most recent Brexit date. This forced Johnson to ask the EU for an extension to the current exit date of Jan. 31. Immediately following the extension, Johnson made another attempt to call for a snap election, this time successfully with the support of some opposition MP’s.
The election was deemed “The Brexit election,” and its outcome is responsible for Britain’s imminent exit. The governing Conservative Party under Boris Johnson ran a largely single-issue campaign, with the slogan “Get Brexit Done.” Johnson reached out to economically disadvantaged areas of Northern England that voted “Leave” in the 2016 referendum, by promising additional public service spending on top of Brexit. Many of these areas traditionally supported the opposition Labour Party.
Johnson’s main opponent was the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s strategy in the election was to avoid discussing Brexit at all costs, given that his party is composed of large groups of people who voted both “Leave” and “Remain.” Corbyn, a noted left-winger, proposed one of the most radical manifestos in recent memory, advocating for nationalization of industry, a marked departure from the centrist “New Labour” years under former Prime Ministers Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Corbyn also faced multiple accusations of anti-Semitism during the election, which hindered his success.
On Brexit, Corbyn supported negotiating a closer arrangement with the EU and holding a second referendum between his new arrangement and remaining in the EU. This policy was unpopular with many Labour-Leave voters, who saw it as undoing the result of the 2016 referendum. Corbyn also refused to say which side of the hypothetical future referendum he would support.
Throughout the election campaign, the polls consistently showed stronger support for the Conservative Party, however they were not necessarily enough to guarantee them a majority at all times. The path to a Corbyn victory involved forming an electoral coalition with both the Scottish National Party, in exchange for the forming of another referendum on Scottish independence, and the centrist Liberal Democrats, who were strongly opposed to Brexit. This would have likely lead to a second Brexit referendum in some form, in addition to a second referendum on Scottish Independence.
Britain went to the polls on Dec. 12, 2019, and voted Conservative. Boris Johnson was handed the largest victory for a Conservative Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher’s 1987 landslide. Corbyn and the Labour Party were reduced to their smallest number of seats since 1935, a chilling result for them. Johnson’s success was made possible for two main reasons. First, despite being targeted heavily by the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats, most Conservative remainers voted Conservative again, minimizing losses in remain voting constituencies. Secondly, the Conservatives made massive gains in Labour’s so-called “red wall,” in the North of England, which voted heavily for leave.
With the election campaign over, Johnson returned to power with a mandate to implement his Brexit deal.
However, the story is not over yet. While Britain will legally leave the EU on Jan. 31, it will still continue to behave as a member during the transition period, which will last until Dec. 31, 2020. During this time, the U.K. will still follow EU regulations and laws, and remain a part of the trading bloc until new terms are negotiated. Johnson amended his withdrawal agreement to limit the extension period to end on Dec. 31, 2020, meaning that if new terms are not agreed to by that date, or an extension is not agreed to, England, Scotland, and Wales will depart the single market on WTO terms, also known as “no deal.” Neither side wants this to happen, so the chances of it are fairly low. Despite the uncertainty seemingly being over for now, there is still much more uncertainty to come.