Following the 2016 referendum, two elections, three prime ministers and three years of attritional political fighting that has split the UK, the day of Brexit has come on January 31st, 2020.
This is not the end, however, the UK and the EU agreed that between January 31st and December 31st, 2020, they would negotiate the bare bones of a trade deal that will define their future relationship.
European Commission President Ursula Von Der Leyen told MEPs on January 28th, when Britain’s Withdrawal Agreement was approved in Brussels, the EU will look to negotiate a deal that benefits its member states, its companies and its citizens.
Both Von der Leyen, as well as EU Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said that a comprehensive deal was unlikely to be completed by year’s end.
What could be reached is no quotas and zero tarrifs on British exports. But key points remain freedom of movement, EU access to British fishing waters, despite the government claiming that it would take back control of British fishing.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised no issues regarding Northern Ireland, which departs the EU, alongside the UK, but physically remains part of the island of Ireland.
He is to give a speech at 23:00 CET on January 31st, an hour before the UK leaves, in the city of Sunderland, which was first to declare its support for “leave” in the 2016 referendum.
In his valedictory speech to the European Parliament on January 30th, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said that he hoped Britain’s exit would mark the beginning of the end of the European Union.
The country’s exit from the EU has also renewed calls from Scottish independence with Nicola Sturgeon, the country’s First Minister, expected to lay out in a speech on January 31st for “the next steps on Scotland’s journey to independence”.
“There is the prospect of a brighter, better future as an equal, independent European nation,” she will add.
However, Brexit also doesn’t mean the EU and UK immediately split.
They will enter a transition period until the end of this year, during which the free movement of people and trade between them will continue as before. There is no expectation of long lines at ports on the English Channel.
Britons will no longer be EU citizens, but they will still broadly enjoy the same rights they do now. The U.K. will keep paying into the EU budget during this transition period, but British lawmakers will no longer sit in the European Parliament or help shape EU rules.
The future is uncertain, and the UK has a long way in front of it, specifically in negotiating with the EU, China and the US. This is furthermore exacerbated by the fact that London doesn’t have the leverage of being a part of a wider market, thus Washington has vowed to support it, but it has not been once or twice that the Trump (and previous) administrations have made empty promises.
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