Have you heard of Brexit? Brexit is an abbreviation for “British Exit” and is the UK’s decision to leave the European Union (EU).
The EU is a union of 28 countries that share common political and economic interests, allow trade between member nations, and permit their citizens to work and live freely in any of the countries. To learn more about the EU, read our earlier article here.
On June 23, 2016, the people of the United Kingdom voted on a referendum. The results were 51.9% to leave and 48.1% to stay in the EU. The original deadline for Brexit was March 29, 2019. However, the U.K could not agree on the conditions and had requested an extension which was agreed to by the European Union.
The Trouble With Brexit
Under EU rules, the U.K had two years to come to an agreement with the EU on issues caused by the withdrawal. While there is no requirement to have an agreement in place, without one, Brexit could be chaotic. The country would wake up overnight to new trade regulations, border checks, and the rights of UK citizens living in the EU will be uncertain.
After months of negotiations, the UK government, led by Prime Minister Theresa May, and the EU approved a withdrawal agreement in November 2018.
- The agreement sets a transition period that allows time for new trade agreements to be negotiated, and for businesses to adjust to the rules. This was set to the end of 2020, and until then the UK would still abide by the EU trade rules.
- Secondly, until the end of the transition period, the UK would agree to pay its share of the EU budget that it had already committed to.
- The final and trickiest part of the agreement is the issue of the “Irish backstop”. The island of Ireland is divided into Northern Ireland which belongs to the U.K, and the Republic of Ireland which is part of the EU (read our earlier article here). To keep the border open and preserve the peace agreement, the UK will remain part of the EU’s customs union until there is a new trade deal.
Why Was The Deadline Extended?
Before the withdrawal agreement can take effect, however, the UK Parliament has to approve it.
Twice this year, on January 15 and March 12, Parliament voted to reject the agreement. There are different reasons for why Parliament members do not like the negotiated agreement, but the biggest roadblock is the backstop. Because the UK would still have to abide by the EU’s customs rules if they cannot negotiate a trade deal, there is fear that the UK could end up in a situation where they have to follow rules that they can no longer influence.
After the second vote failed in the Parliament, the UK asked the EU for an extension to its March 29 deadline. The EU agreed to two alternative dates for the exit:
- April 12 if Parliament does not approve the withdrawal agreement soon. By this date, the UK could exit the EU without an agreement, or request another extension. A second extension is not likely because EU Parliament elections start on May 23 and the UK would have to participate.
- May 22 if Parliament passes the withdrawal agreement soon. This gives the UK additional time to prepare for a clean exit.
Meanwhile, a petition signed by six million U.K citizens wants to halt Brexit and allow the U.K to remain in the EU. As confusion reigns, the next few weeks will determine the future of the U.K.
Sources: BBC, NPR, Euronews, NYTimes