Understanding Brexit: A Comprehensive Guide to Understanding the Who’s, What’s and Why’s of Brexit

The United Kingdom’s Brexit saga has worked its way through three years and as many Prime Ministers The political drama has undergone a slew of twists and turns that have experienced analysts struggling to make sense of the situation...

The United Kingdom’s Brexit saga has worked its way through three years and as many Prime Ministers. The political drama has undergone a slew of twists and turns that have experienced analysts struggling to make sense of the situation.

With that in mind, you wouldn’t be blamed for failing to follow the complex developments and changes that have taken root since 2016. The following explainer clarifies some of the finer points of the issue while demystifying the underlying motivations.

Key Players

UK Conservative Government

  • Boris Johnson
    • Position: Prime Minister; Leader of the Conservative Party
    • Influence level: High.
      • 288 seats in the House of Commons.
      • Johnson has been able to wrest the agenda from the British Parliament; Dictating the current round of Brexit negotiations while beset on all sides.
      • Despite vowing to deliver Brexit on October 31stdo or die,’ his request for a January 31st Brexit extension was recently approved by EU leaders.
    • Intel:
      • Johnson has used the Brexit issue to catapult himself to the seat of UK power.
      • The befuddled former mayor of London became the face of the ‘Leave’ campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum.
      • He served as Foreign Secretary under Theresa May only to resign July 2018 in opposition to her proposed deal.
      • He succeeded Theresa May as Prime Minister and has slogged through the Brexit quagmire since July 2019.
    • Motivation:
      • Johnson campaigned hard for the ‘Leave’ campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum.
      • His tenure while in government has proven that he is a staunch supporter of a “hard Brexit” but will support a “no-deal Brexit” if the situation becomes unavoidable.
      • An illegal prorogation of Parliament revealed Johnson’s commitment to the October 31st deadline.
  • David Frost
    • Position: Appointed Head UK Negotiator July 24, 2019
    • Influence level:
      • Medium.
      • While Frost is tasked with negotiating the UK’s position, he is not as involved with decision-making as Johnson and Dominic Cummings.
    • Intel:
      • A career diplomat with extensive European experience, Frost is expected to breathe new life into the Brexit negotiations.
      • His tenure as the former British ambassador to Denmark is expected to soften Johnson’s rhetoric.
    • Motivation:
      • Frost has spent a career in civil service and appears contented with filling a variety of these roles.
      • While Frost is committed to an October 31 Brexit – deal or no deal – his negotiating efforts bore fruit in the recently accepted withdrawal agreement.
  • Stephen Barclay
    • Position: Brexit Secretary
    • Influence Level:
      • Medium.
      • As Brexit secretary, Barclay is at the center of the negotiations.
      • His experience in the financial industry may prove a necessary insight into Brexit’s impacts on London’s prized financial sector.
    • Intel:
      • As one of the few holdovers from Theresa May’s government, Barclay’s experience in Brexit has proven a key component of Johnson’s team.
      • He was promoted from Home Secretary to Brexit secretary in November 2018, following Dominic Raab’s resignation.
    • Motivation:
      • Barclay’s experience in both government and the financial sector make him a decisive connection in these high level talks.
      • His unwillingness to rule out a leadership bid and 9-year political trajectory suggest he may have his eyes set on leadership in the future.
  • Sajid Javid
    • Position: Chancellor of the Exchequer
    • Influence level:
      • Medium.
      • A reformed ‘Remainer’ and long-time Tory with experience across the parliamentary board, Javid wields influence across the different tribes in the Conservative party.
      • He was tapped by Prime Minister Boris Johnson to lead the UK economy through Brexit.
    • Intel:
      • Former Home Secretary under Theresa May and now Chancellor of the Exchequer, Javid is the “first person from an ethnic minority” to hold either title.
      • He has enjoyed a formidable ascent since resigning as a managing director at Deutsche Bank AG to join Parliament in  2010.
    • Motivation:
      • An avowed Thatcherite who has run for Conservative leadership once already, Javid clearly has his sights set on No. 10 Downing street.
      • The leadership contest following Theresa May’s ouster immediately saw Javid throw his hat in the ring – an early signal he will likely attempt another leadership run once Boris steps down.
  • Dominic Raab
    • Position: Foreign Secretary
    • Influence level:
      • Medium.
      • While the UK’s largest Foreign Affairs issue, Brexit, is on the PM’s desk, Raab has played an instrumental role in the UK’s Brexit negotiations.
    • Intel:
      • In 2018, Raab became the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union – commonly known as the Brexit Secretary – after David Davis’ resignation.
      • He would later resign from his post on November 2018 in protest of Theresa May’s Brexit deal.
      • Following Theresa May’s ouster, Raab ran for the Conservative leadership before losing to Boris Johnson.
      • He would later be appointed to Foreign Secretary in Johnson’s government where he has continued to spearhead negotiations despite public accusations to the contrary.
    • Motivation:  
      • Raab has pushed for a hard Brexit and has signalled support for a no-deal divorce if the situation should arise.
      • From the start of his time in government, he has been a hardline ‘Leaver’ and has pushed for a tougher stance on the EU. He has advocated that Britain’s position following Brexit will be much stronger, with the potential for globe-spanning trade deals unencumbered by the EU.
      • His previous leadership run suggests his long-term ambition rests with the top job following Boris Johnson’s departure.
  • Priti Patel
    • Position: Home Secretary
    • Influence level:
      • Low.
      • Pouncing on the Brexit referendum, she campaigned heavily for the ‘leave’ vote and quickly became a leading voice within the Tory leadership.
      • In 2016, she was appointed International Development Secretary under Theresa May before being relegated to the backbenches in 2017 amid a damaging scandal.
      • After Johnson’s 2019 leadership victory she was appointed the Home Secretary, where she has considerably influenced the government’s post-Brexit strategy.
    • Intel:
      • Another avowed Thatcherite, Patel has long been a Eurosceptic and railed against the EU’s free movement of peoples within Britain.
      • She recently backtracked on her promise to end EU free movement after it was determined that the government could be exposed to a legal challenge but seems determined to pursue the issue.
      • Her strategy is to develop an Australian-style points-based immigration system that would filter through only the most skilled and talented immigrants.
    • Motivation:
      • While Patel has never shown explicit interest in government leadership, she has gained considerable momentum and will likely make a leadership push in the future.
      • Despite her fall from grace, Patel is now the highest ranking woman in government and her recovery has since christened her the “Lazarus of Politics.”
      • Increasing domestic security through limiting UK immigration seems to be her main focus at present.
  • Dominic Cummings
    • Position: Political Aide to Boris Johnson
    • Influence level:
      • High. Very High.
      • The former chair of the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign, Dominic Cummings is widely regarded as the architect of Brexit and the “real” brains behind Johnson’s Brexit plan.
    • Intel:
      • Adviser to former Education Minister Michael Gove, Cummings moved on to direct the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum.
      • In his role he reconfigured the campaign’s message and strategy to secure victory; he was the mastermind behind the “Take back control” slogan.
      • After several refusals to answer lawmakers’ questions regarding false claims during the Brexit campaign, he was eventually found in contempt of Parliament and admonished in 2019.
      • However, upon taking office, Johnson appointed Cummings as his “de facto chief of staff” where he has been the lead strategist behind Johnson’s campaign and Brexit strategy.
      • Reports indicate that he will step down from his position for a medical procedure and will likely not return.
    • Motivation:
      • Cummings has been an ardent supporter of civil service reform for quite some time and he sees an opportunity to effect that change in the coming months.
      • Cummings has ideological and pragmatic reasons for the changes, but he views his time in government with Johnson as his best opportunity to carry out the necessary reforms.  
      • More importantly, he believes in a hard Brexit, has pushed for a no-deal divorce, and has chiefly crafted Johnson’s Brexit strategy.

European Research Group

  • Jacob Rees-Mogg
    • Position: Leader of the House of Commons, Lord President of the Council, and Former Chairman of the European Research Group (ERG)
    • Influence level:
      • Medium.
      • Under Rees-Mogg’s leadership, The ERG – a hardline Brexiteer tribe within the Conservative Party – were able to undermine Theresa May’s Chequers Plan.
      • Intel:
        • Brexit has catapulted Rees-Mogg and his Eurosceptic views from the fringes (and the backbenches) to the center of the debate.
        • Rees-Mogg and the ERG were instrumental to the defeat of May’s Chequers Plan.
        • In July, 2019 his loyalty to Boris Johnson was rewarded with the appointment to the Leader of the Commons.
        • As Chairman of the ERG, he was at the head of a hardline group of MPs and given considerable sway over the Brexit debate.
      • Motivation:
        • He supports a hard Brexit, welcomes a no-deal scenario, and believes the UK would perform well under World Trade Organization rules.
        • His biggest grievance was the Irish Backstop, as it had the potential to retain the UK in the EU customs union indefinitely.
  • Steve Baker
    • Position: Conservative MP and current ERG Chairman
    • Influence Level:
      • Low.
      • 92 ERG members
      • Though Steve Baker is the current ERG Chairman, Rees-Mogg is still regarded as the de facto leader in some circles due to the alignment of the government and the ERG’s policies.
    • Intel:
      • Baker was the ERG chairman during the 2016-2017 period and deputy chairman in 2018-2019.
      • He maintains a close relationship with Rees-Mogg, who signals many of the groups intentions over the medium term.
    • Motivation:
      • Baker supports a hard Brexit and campaigned for the ‘Leave’ vote during the referendum.
      • The former Deputy Brexit Secretary has slipped back and forth between government and the ERG.
      • His time amongst the country’s leadership suggests he may continue onto a major cabinet position in future.
    • ERG Member List
      • Lucy Allan
      • David Amess
      • Richard Bacon
      • Steve Baker
      • Bob Blackman
      • Crispin Blunt
      • Peter Bone
      • Ben Bradley
      • Graham Brady
      • Suella Braverman
      • Andrew Bridgen
      • Fiona Bruce
      • Conor Burns
      • Bill Cash
      • Rehman Chishti
      • Simon Clarke
      • Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
      • Robert Courts
      • Tracey Crouch
      • David Davies
      • Philip Davies
      • David Davis
      • Nigel Dodds
      • Nadine Dorries
      • Steve Double
      • Richard Drax
      • James Duddridge
      • Iain Duncan Smith
      • Charlie Elphicke
      • Nigel Evans
      • Michael Fabricant
      • Mark Francois
      • Marcus Fysh
      • Cheryl Gillan
      • Zac Goldsmith
      • James Gray
      • Chris Green
      • Mark Harper
      • Trudy Harrison
      • Adam Holloway
      • Eddie Hughes
      • Ranil Jayawardena
      • Bernard Jenkin
      • Andrea Jenkyns
      • Boris Johnson
      • Caroline Johnson
      • Gareth Johnson
      • David Jones
      • Daniel Kawzcynski
      • Pauline Latham
      • Edward Leigh
      • Andrew Lewer
      • Julian Lewis
      • Julia Lopez
      • Jonathan Lord
      • Tim Loughton
      • Craig Mackinlay
      • Anne Main
      • Scott Mann
      • Stephen McPartland
      • Esther McVey
      • Nigel Mills
      • Damien Moore
      • Anne-Marie Morris
      • Sheryll Murray
      • Matthew Offord
      • Priti Patel
      • Owen Paterson
      • Tom Pursglove
      • Will Quince
      • Dominic Raab
      • John Redwood
      • Jacob Rees-Mogg
      • Laurence Robertson
      • Andrew Rosindell
      • Lee Rowley
      • Henry Smith
      • Royston Smith
      • Bob Stewart
      • Desmond Swayne
      • Derek Thomas
      • Ross Thomson
      • Michael Tomlinson
      • Craig Tracey
      • Anne-Marie Trevelyan
      • Shailesh Vara
      • Martin Vickers
      • Theresa Villiers
      • John Whttingdale
      • Bill Wiggin
      • Sammy Wilson
      • William Wragg

Brexit Delivery Group

  • Simon Hart
    • Position: Leader of the Brexit Delivery Group (BDG)
    • Influence level:
      • Low
      • 51 BDG Members
      • Though Hart helms the BDG, the group’s informal status lends him little authority over its members.
      • At last count, the Brexit Delivery Group was the third largest of the Conservative party’s internal tribes.
      • They were largely supporters of Theresa May’s Chequers plan and seek to avoid a no-deal Brexit at any cost.
    • Intel:
      • Hart’s pragmatism allowed him to coordinate a group of likeminded MPs to support Theresa May’s deal.
      • He was promoted to Minister of Implementation upon Boris Johnson’s leadership victory.
    • Motivation:
      • Hart and the BDG want a deal of any sort.
      • Having voted to remain in the 2016 referendum, Hart is opposed to a no-deal Brexit and supported Theresa May during her stint in government.
    • Brexit Delivery Group Members
      • Peter Aldous
      • Henry Bellingham
      • Richard Benyon
      • Nick Boles
      • Rehman Chishti
      • Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
      • Stephen Crabb
      • Chris Davies
      • David Davies
      • Jonathan Djanogly
      • Steve Double
      • David Duguid
      • Philip Dunne
      • George Freeman
      • Roger Gale
      • Mark Garnier
      • Robert Goodwill
      • Richard Graham
      • Bill Grant
      • Damian Green
      • Simon Hart
      • Oliver Heald
      • Gordon Henderson
      • Joh Howell
      • Stephen Kerr
      • Jeremy Lefroy
      • Jonathan Lord
      • Scott Mann
      • Patrick McLoughlin
      • Mark Menzies
      • Maria Miller
      • Nicky Morgan
      • Bob Neill
      • Neil Parish
      • Mark Pawsey
      • Andrew Percy
      • Daniel Poulter
      • Antoinette Sandbach
      • Bob Seely
      • Andrew Selous
      • Keith Simpson
      • Nicholas Soames
      • John Stevenson
      • Gary Streeter
      • Julian Sturdy
      • Hugo Swire
      • David Tredinnick
      • Tom Tugendhat
      • Ed Vaizey
      • Charles Walker
      • Giles Watling

Brexit Party

  • Nigel Farage
    • Position: Leader of the Brexit party
      • Former head of UK Independence Party (UKIP)
      • Member of European Parliament since 1999
    • Influence Level:
      • Medium
      • 28 Members of European Parliament
      • A former fringe politician, Farage has long been the voice of UK Eurosceptics.
      • His EU-bashing garnered him enough support to trigger the Brexit referendum by then-Prime Minister David Cameron
    • Intel:
      • Farage founded the Brexit party in November 2018 after breaking ties with UKIP.
      • The most recent European Parliament elections saw him bolster his position with a plurality of the British vote.
      • Farage and his Brexit party pose a major threat to the Tories in the event of an election.
      • Like the 2016 referendum, Farage may peel away dissatisfied conservative voters.
      • Farage has demanded that Johnson renegotiate the newly-signed deal and sign an electoral pact with his party for the upcoming election.
      • Though he has stood down from his threat to contest all Tory seats in the coming election, he remains a dark horse to Johnson’s Brexit plans.
    • Motivation:
      • For years, Farage has supported the UK’s exit from the EU.
      • Originally speaking from the fringes of government, the 2016 referendum propelled him to the center of the debate. 
      • He has consistently sought a hard Brexit through populist ideas – causing a split with the Tories who viewed him as an extremist.

Democratic Unionist Party

  • Arlene Foster
    • Position: DUP Leader
    • Influence level:
      • Low.
      • As leader of the 10 DUP MPs, Foster became an accidental “kingmaker” once the Tories lost their parliamentary majority.
      • However, Johnson’s new agreement dumped the DUP to secure an agreement with the EU.
      • Despite vocal opposition to the deal, Foster and the DUP have been marginalized in the Brexit debate.
    • Intel:
      • Foster played a central role in propping up May’s government – giving her a slight majority in parliament.
      • Her voice carries less weight now that Northern Ireland’s veto – and implicit consent – is no longer a part of the deal.
    • Motivation:
      • Despite softening her stance on the prospect of border controls, Foster still adamantly opposes the introduction of a hard border in Ireland.
      • The new deal has pushed her to break ties with the government as she vocally opposes the new agreement.
    • DUP Members
      • Gregory Campbell
      • Nigel Dodds
      • Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson
      • Paul Girvan
      • Emma Little Pengelly
      • Ian PaisleyGavin Robinson
      • Jim ShannonDavid Simpson
      • Sammy Wilson
  • Theresa May
    • Position: Former UK Prime Minister
    • Influence Level:
      • Low.
      • Though Theresa May is no longer in office, the shadow of her rejected deal looms large over parliament.
      • The backstop has proven the most contentious aspect of the Brexit negotiations and remains as her lasting legacy.
    • Intel:
      • Theresa May succeeded David Cameron as PM after he unsuccessfully campaigned for ‘Remain’ in the Brexit referendum.
      • Her attempts to pass a Brexit deal in parliament earned historic defeats before her eventual resignation in July 2019.
      • Despite her exit from the UK’s government cabinet, she still features prominently in the Brexit debates and will likely have a role to play before the deal is done.
    • Motivation:
      • Theresa May voted to remain in the referendum and, absent a reversal of the referendum, prefers a soft Brexit.
      • Her attempts at a deal were emblematic of her desire to keep the Conservative party in power while safely steering the Brexit process.
      • Despite locking horns with Johnson over the viability of her deal, she recently spoke in support of Johnson’s agreement; urging MPs to back the deal.

Conservative Opposition

  • Philip Hammond
    • Position: Former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Tory Grandee
    • Influence level:
      • Low.
      • Despite playing a coordinating role amongst the 21 Tory rebels who lost the whip, Hammond possesses little power in the Commons.
      • He is a Tory grandee who has previously been the defence secretary, foreign secretary and transport secretary.
    • Intel:
      • After rebelling against the Johnson government to stave off a no-deal Brexit Hammond was among the rebels from whom Johnson removed the whip.
      • Since his expulsion from the Conservative party, Hammond has discussed forming a new party from the rebels who had the whip removed.
      • However, Johnson recently restored the whip to 10 rebel MPs – effectively splitting them from the other 11.
      • Hammond was  among the 11 left out in the cold.
    • Motivation:
      • Hammond initially backed ‘Remain’ in the referendum and prefers a soft Brexit if one is required.
      • Above all, Hammond and the rebels want to avoid what they view to be a disastrous exit from the EU.
      • A no deal scenario, Hammond reckons, would be catastrophic for the UK; driving him to  support the January 31 deadline extension.
    • 21 Tory Rebels
      • Guto Bebb
      • Richard Benyon
      • Steve Brine
      • Alistair Burt
      • Greg Clark
      • Kenneth Clarke
      • David Gauke
      • Justine Greening
      • Dominic Grieve
      • Sam Gyimah
      • Philip Hammond
      • Stephen Hammond
      • Richard Harrington
      • Margot James
      • Oliver Letwin
      • Anne Milton
      • Caroline Nokes
      • Antoinette Sandbach
      • Nicholas Soames
      • Rory Stewart
      • Edward Vaizey

Labour-Led Opposition

  • Jeremy Corbyn
    • Position: Labour Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons
    • Influence level:
      • High.
      • 245 seats in the House of Commons
      • As Leader of the Labour party and Leader of the Opposition since 2015, Corbyn has used unbending neutrality throughout the Brexit debate to effect his influence.
    • Intel:
      • Previously relegated to the fringes of his party for his socialist views, Corbyn won the 2015 Labour leadership run prior to the Brexit referendum.
      • His Labour party won big in the 2017 snap election when Theresa May, seeking greater support for her coming deal, lost her parliamentary majority.
      • In an effort to knock down Boris Johnson’s proposed Brexit plan, opposition leaders debated a vote of confidence that would install an interim unity government.
      • Corbyn’s insistence on leading said government ended the potential alliance in its crib.
    • Motivation:
      • Corbyn’s main motivation is a Labour government negotiating Brexit with the EU.
      • Though Labour largely supported ‘Remain’, Corbyn has long been a Eurosceptic.
      • He opposes a no-deal Brexit and may support a second referendum
  • Tom Watson
    • Position: Labour Party Deputy Leader
    • Influence level:
      • Low.
      • Wielding a fair amount of influence in his own party, Watson may succeed Corbyn if he were to step down.
    • Intel:
      • Deputy Leader since 2015, he has often been at odds with leader Jeremy Corbyn.
      • Most recently, Watson was the subject of Labour party infighting and was nearly ousted at the Labour annual conference.
    • Motivation:
      •  The Deputy Leader makes no secret of his Labour party leadership ambitions.
      • In an effort to distinguish himself from Corbyn, Watson made early calls for a second referendum; emphatically backing a ‘Remain’ vote.
  • Emily Thornberry
    • Position: Shadow Foreign Secretary
    • Influence level:
      • Low.
      • Thornberry has helped steer Labour’s position but has little involvement in policymaking.
    • Intel:
      • Her pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to commit Labour to a ‘Remain’ referendum and public appearances have made her a target of Conservatives and Brexit supporters.
    • Motivation:
      • Thornberry ardently supports remaining within the EU and a second referendum.
  • Diane Abbott
    • Position: Shadow Home Secretary
    • Influence level:
      • Low.
      • Abbott’s influence within Labour is on the rise as her close connection to Corbyn becomes more evident.
    • Intel:
      • Abbot’s close ties to Corbyn have pushed her closer to the spotlight on the Brexit debate – helping to influence public opinion.
    • Motivation:
      • Abbott maintains that Labour should negotiate the Brexit deal and put it to a second referendum in which Labour would support ‘Remain’.
      • Critics have noted this would cause a conflict of interest and cast doubt on Labour’s intentions in EU negotiations.

Scottish National Party (SNP)

  • Nicola Sturgeon
    • Position: Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP).
    • Influence level:
      • Medium.
      • 35 seats in the House of Commons. Nicola Sturgeon is the First Minister of Scotland and the leader of the SNP – the UK’s 3rd largest political party.
      • While SNP votes may not define the Brexit outcome, Sturgeon could trigger a Scottish independence vote.
    • Intel:
      • Scotland overwhelmingly voted ‘Remain’ during the Brexit referendum.
      • The results rekindled Scottish independence movements that thrust Sturgeon to the front of the Brexit debate.
    • Motivation:
      • Sturgeon has made no secret that she and Scotland prefer to remain in the EU.
      • She backs a second referendum to determine the country’s fate, but will likely aim to spark a vote on Scottish independence once the dust settles to avoid similar crises in the future.
    • SNP Members
      • Hannah Bardell
      • Mhairi Black
      • Ian Blackford
      • Kirsty Blackman
      • Deidre Brock
      • Alan Brown
      • Dr Lisa Cameron
      • Douglas Chapman
      • Joanna Cherry
      • Ronnie Cowan
      • Angela Crawley
      • Martin Docherty-Hughes
      • Marion Fellows
      • Stephen Gethins
      • Patricia Gibson
      • Patrick Grady
      • Peter Grant
      • Neil Gray
      • Drew Hendry
      • Stewart Hosie
      • Chris Law
      • David Linden
      • Stewart Malcolm Macdonald
      • Stuart C. McDonald
      • John McNally
      • Carol Monaghan
      • Gavin Newlands
      • Brendan O’Hara
      • Tommy Sheppard
      • Chris Stephens
      • Alison Thewliss
      • Dr Philippa Whitford
      • Pete Wishart

Liberal Democrats (Lib-Dems)

  • Jo Swinson
    • Position: Leader of the Liberal Democrat (Lib Dems) Party
    • Influence level:
    • Low.
      • 19 seats in the House of Commons.
      • Despite leading the country’s 4th largest political party, Swinson’s influence does not extend much beyond support for one policy or another.
      • Her vow to win the election and reverse Brexit was largely received as political posturing.
    • Intel:
      • The Lib Dems have seen a uptick in their numbers as some of the recently-ejected Conservative rebels cross the floor to join their ranks.
      • Swinson’s pro-Remain stance has earned her growing support and the party’s stature is quickly becoming a tempting option for those dissatisfied with the main parties.
    • Motivation:
      • Swinson and the Lib Dems fiercely support remaining in the EU and would cancel Brexit if elected.
    • Lib-Dem Members
      • Heidi Allen
      • Tom Brake
      • Alistair Carmichael
      • Jane Dodds
      • Sam Gyimah
      • Christine Jardine
      • Dr Phillip Lee
      • Angela Smith
      • Jo Swinson
      • Dr Sarah Wollaston
      • Luciana Berger
      • Sir Vince Cable
      • Sir Edward Davey
      • Tim Farron
      • Wera Hobhouse
      • Norman Lamb
      • Layla Moran
      • Jamie Stone
      • Chuka Umunna

Plaid Cymru

  • Adam Price
    • Position: Plaid Cymru Leader
    • Influence Level:
      • Low.
      • 4 seats in ParliamentPlaid Cymru’s small footprint translates to little impact on the Brexit debate
    • Intel:
      • Price expects that a no-deal Brexit could “hasten” efforts toward Welsh independence.
      • His desire to remain in the EU has pushed him into an alliance with the SNP for alternative solutions to the Brexit deadlock.
      • Previous comments have welcomed the breakup of the UK to allow for nuanced policy making amongst its constituent countries.
    • Motivation:
      • He supports remaining in the EU and a second referendum to settle the Brexit debate.While he has openly discussed the potential for Welsh independence, he also promotes greater Celtic unity.
    • Plaid Cymru Members
      • Jonathan Edwards
      • Ben lake
      • Saville Roberts
      • Hywel Williams

EU Leadership

  • Leo Varadkar
    • Position: Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister)
    • Influence level:
      • Medium.
      • Ireland’s youngest Prime Minister assumed office in 2017 and leads the Fine Gael party’s 55-seat coalition government.
    • Intel:
      • Varadkar is at the center of the Brexit debate as the Irish border proves the most difficult hurdle to overcome.
      • The complications associated with the Irish backstop endanger the 1998 Good Friday Agreement which ended decades of violence between Republicans and Unionists.
    • Motivation:
      • Above all, Varadkar is opposed to a hard border on the island of Ireland – including customs checks or immigration posts.
      • While Varadkar would prefer a reversal of Brexit, a soft Brexit that respects the Good Friday agreement would be the next best alternative.
  • Michel Barnier
    • Position: European Commission Chief Brexit Negotiator
    • Influence level:
      • Low.
      • A seasoned EU bureaucrat, Barnier has deftly represented the interests of all 27 EU member states while containing the Brexit threat.
      • His negotiation of the Irish backstop has proved an effective roadblock to supporters of a hard Brexit.
    • Intel:
      • Barnier has been asked to remain as the EU Chief Brexit negotiator by incoming EC President, Ursula von der Leyen.
    • Motivation:
      • While Barnier declined to run for EC President, he will likely use the Brexit negotiations to springboard into a central EC role.
  • Didier Seeuws
    • Position: Head of the EU Brexit Task Force
    • Influence level:
      • Low.
      • While Seeuws is involved with the negotiations his capacity is more of an adviser than that of a policymaker.
    • Intel:
      • Seeuws was handpicked by European Council President Donald Tusk to head the Brexit taskforce.
      • The former adviser to Guy Verhofstadt, Seeuws was selected due to his performance during the Greek debt crisis.
    • Motivation:
      • While keeping to the background of Brexit, Seeuws seeks to strike consensus amongst the 27 member states and ensure they are informed, represented and contented with the negotiations.
  • Guy Verhofstadt
    • Position: Former Belgian Prime Minister and European Parliament’s Brexit Co-ordinator
    • Influence level:
      • Low.
      • Verhofstadt has no formal role in the negotiations though he represents the European Parliament.
      • As the Parliament will need to approve any deal hashed out, his involvement is still critical.
    • Intel:
      • Brexit saw Verhofstadt elevated from his 10-year stint as a Member of the European Parliament to his current position as chief Brexit coordinator.
    • Motivation:
      • Verhofstadt publicly backed the ‘Remain’ campaign and is a staunch federalist seeking greater European integration.
      • He will likely seek a senior role within the European Parliament once Brexit negotiations conclude.
  • Jean-Claude Juncker
    • Position: Outgoing President of the European Commission and former Prime Minister of Luxembourg
    • Influence level:
      • High.
      • As the President of the European Union’s Executive Branch, Juncker represents the EU on foreign matters while helping to set the EC’s direction.
    • Intel:
      • Juncker has closely managed the Brexit negotiations along with his chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
      • The duo has maintained EU solidarity despite doubting that a workable deal can be struck with the Johnson government.
    • Motivation:
      • Juncker considers Brexit a ‘disaster’ and would prefer a reversal of the 2016 referendum.
      • However, in lieu of a ‘Remain’ outcome, he seeks to maintain the integrity of the EU customs union.
      • An issue which, in this case, refers to the Irish backstop negotiated with Theresa May.
  • Donald Tusk
    • Position: Former Prime Minister of Poland and Current President of the EU Council
    • Influence level:
      • High.
      • As President of the EU Council, Tusk is involved with developing the EU’s political direction along with the EU heads of state.
      • Along with Jean-Claude Juncker, he is one of the EU’s senior leaders tasked with representing the union on the world stage.
    • Intel:
      • Brexit required Tusk to strike a conciliatory tone between the remaining members of the EU and the UK’s duelling political parties.
      • The divorce has required a bout of brinksmanship from the typically quiet and charismatic leader.
    • Motivation:
      • Tusk publicly lamented the 2016 results and has made it clear he hopes it will be reversed in a second referendum.
      • He prefers a cancellation to Brexit but, like Juncker, is committed to guarding the integrity of the customs union and maintaining a borderless Ireland.
  • Angela Merkel
    • Position: Chancellor of Germany
    • Influence level:
      • High.
      • Merkel has no official role in the negotiations but her position at the head of the EU’s largest economy makes her input invaluable.
    • Intel:
      • Despite the EU Brexit Taskforce’s deep bench of negotiators and diplomats, the process was always likely to draw in Merkel.
      • She has often been the point person in the negotiations and traded barbs with both UK prime ministers.
    • Motivation:
      • The pragmatic German stateswoman has held a tough line against the UK as she protects EU interests
      • Her pro-European stance may put her under threat as domestic populism has cornered Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union party.
  • Emmanuel Macron
    • Position: President of France
    • Influence level:
      • High.
      • Though Macron is not formally involved in the Brexit negotiations, his input and influence are likely to impact any deal proposed.
      • Were Macron to seek some political leverage, he may veto an extension request simply to end the saga.
    • Intel:
      • Brexit has pushed Macron into his own bout of brinksmanship as he attempts to squeeze the UK government without holding the bag on collapsed talks.
    • Motivation:
      • As one of the de facto leaders of the EU, it is in Macron’s best interest to protect the EU position during the Brexit negotiation.
      • Ensuring that Brexit is a painful process for the UK will likely discourage other EU populists from considering their own departure from the bloc.
      • As both Paris and Frankfurt vie to assume London’s financial role in the EU, Macron may try to tilt fortunes in France’s favour.

Current Developments

UK Government:

Boris Johnson has now successfully acquired the snap election he has sought for months. The UK will go to the polls on December 12, 2019; after which Johnson’s new Brexit deal will ostensibly be approved, scrapped, or put to a second referendum.

After a calamitous month following Johnson’s proroguing of parliament, he was finally able to secure a deal with the EU on October 17, 2019. The deal largely builds off of Theresa May’s Chequers plan with a few key changes:

  • The Irish backstop has now been removed. In its place, the whole of the UK leaves the EU Customs Union but a customs border would be installed on the island of Ireland. Under the new arrangement, checks would take place between the UK and Northern Ireland – creating a customs barrier in the Irish Sea. Taxes would be treated differently depending on whether goods were remaining in Northern Ireland or continuing into the EU.
  • Northern Ireland would keep to the EU regulatory standard for goods – removing the need for regulatory checks on goods throughout Ireland. However, this places the burden of checks on UK-Northern Ireland trade.
  • The Northern Ireland Stormont Assembly retains its veto vote, but it would not take place until the end of the first 4-year period. If the Assembly votes in favour of the arrangement, it will continue for 4-8 years; the varying duration depends on complex proportionality votes to honor the Good Friday Agreement. If the Assembly scraps the deal, Northern Ireland would exit the arrangement after two years, in which the future relationship would be negotiated
  • Northern Ireland would be required to maintain the same value added tax laws as the rest of the EU

Arlene Foster slammed Boris Johnson for abandoning Northern Ireland and their alliance with the DUP. Her party has rejected the deal outright once it was presented in Parliament.

Despite efforts to ram the deal through Parliament before the October 31st deadline, Boris Johnson requested an extension from the EU. EU leaders extended the deadline to January 31, 2020, but left the door open for the UK to conclude Brexit ahead of the new deadline.

The Tories are now gearing up for the December 12 election and shoring up their support. After losing the DUP to his new deal, Johnson returned the whip to 10 of the 21 Conservative MPs he recently expelled from the party. While the Tories are leading in early polls, they now face a major threat in Nigel Farage’s Brexit party.

Early estimates had written off Nigel Farage during the Brexit debate, but he has now complicated the Conservative vote with a string of demands. Farage has offered the Tories an election alliance pact – promising not to challenge in Tory seats – that would require Johnson to scrap his deal and start anew.

UK Opposition:

Most of the UK opposition either backed ‘Remain’ or simply did not support ‘Leave’ during the 2016 referendum. As such, their positions on the subject range from the neutral Labour party and the anti-Brexit Lib Dems to the independence-minded SNP. However, one thing is clear: none of them want a hard Brexit.

Labour, in particular, sports a divided electorate with MPs on either side of the Leave-Remain debate. 19 Labour MPs voted in favour of Boris Johnson’s deal under mounting pressure from their constituents to honour the results of the Brexit referendum. This lends some clarity to why Corbyn has been reluctant to take a firm stance on Brexit as his party splinters internally.

Plans to ouster Boris Johnson and create an opposition-party national unity government have been abandoned in the wake of the most recent deal. The new government would have wrested control from the ruling Conservatives and installed a caretaker government until a general election was called. However, talks collapsed when Labour insisted that Jeremy Corbyn should lead the interim government amid opposition from other parties.

Presently, all opposition parties are gearing up for the December 12 election but split on the need for a second Brexit referendum. While Labour backs a second referendum with the new deal as the ‘Leave’ alternative, Swinson insists that Brexit can be reversed without another vote.

Most recently, she confirmed that she is open to electoral arrangements with smaller opposition allies to ensure that ‘Remainers’ secure a majority in the upcoming election.  Meanwhile, Scotland and the SNP firmly support another referendum vote while they grapple with an independence question amid the Brexit milieu.

EU Officials:

After agreeing to a deal on October 17, EU leaders have been “cautiously optimistic” that the Brexit saga’s conclusion is within reach. After extensive consideration, EU leaders opted to approve an October 19th Brexit deadline extension request.

The deadline was, once again, kicked down the road unless the UK resolves Brexit before the January 31st, 2020 deadline. Representatives on both sides of the table are eager to avoid blame for a no-deal Brexit and hope that the new extension yields a positive result.

EU leaders are now eager to move on from Brexit as other issues clamor for their attention. The effects of a no-deal Brexit are not contained to the UK.

While the Sterling and the British economy have taken a battering as markets respond to each twitch in the headlines, the Euro is still highly vulnerable and currently working through quantitative easing destabilisation.

Throughout the saga, EU leaders have fervently prepared for a potential no-deal Brexit. The plans have been extensive due to the significant effects of a hard UK departure. Immediate tariff impositions, a hard border in Ireland, the evaporation of workers’ and citizens’ rights, the loss of the free movement of peoples, and plenty more are at stake in the event of a no-deal Brexit.

The EU’s no-deal ‘Brexit preparedness’ programme was announced on March 29, 2019. The damage limitation programme introduced 46 new legislative measures to be adopted or proposed that would help alleviate some of these issues.

Temporary work visas, goods shortages, and the Irish border are among the issues addressed but detractors are concerned that the preparations are insufficient to mitigate the worst impacts. Importantly, the EU has factored in a budgetary shortfall in the event the UK does not follow through with settling the Brexit divorce bill.

The EU is, in fact, approaching a no-deal Brexit the same way it would a natural catastrophe and will be releasing disaster relief funds to aid business, workers, and regulatory systems hardest hit by the Brexit shock.  Emergency funding to the tune of 780 million euros has been released in preparation for the potential of a no-deal Brexit.

Brexit Explained

Before continuing any further, it may be helpful to understand some Brexit basics. Brexit is a combination of “British” and “exit.” It’s a clever title coined by Peter Wilding to describe the UK’s decision to leave the EU.

The decision took place during a national referendum on June 23, 2016 when 17.4 million voters (52%) voted to leave the EU to the dismay of the 16.1 million (48%) who voted to remain. The campaign was brutally divisive and split the country clean in half. The results meant that the UK would be the first country in history to withdraw from the EU.

What is the EU?

The European Union started life in 1950 as the European Coal and Steel Community. Originally made up of Belgium, France, Germany, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands; the UK would not join until 1973. Among other things, it was an attempt at binding French and German fortunes together in the post-war period.

The union had the explicit aims of economic integration to prevent the possibility of another European War. The 1992 signing of the Maastricht treaty by European Community members created the European Union. The economic and political union, of what would grow to 28 European countries, eliminated internal borders and allowed for free movement of goods and people. This new iteration of the trade bloc comprised a customs union and single market with the Euro as the common currency.

What is a Customs Union?

In short, a customs union is a trade agreement. It is a treaty between two (or more)countries that promises to maintain a common regulatory standard, not to impose tariffs on member states, and apply common external tariffs on any third country outside the customs union.

Any goods imported to the customs union have a single tariff applied but then no additional tariffs or customs checks are applied once within the customs union. This arrangement is similar to a free trade agreement (FTA) except countries in an FTA are allowed to set their own tariffs with third countries as opposed to the common external tariff in a customs union.

Since all countries within the customs union must apply the same external tariff, economic cooperation is improved but some administrative autonomy is lost.

What is the Single Market?

The European single market is a lot like the customs union. Like the customs union it allows for the free movement of goods within the borders of the single market.

Crucially, however, the single market also allows for the free movement of “services, investment and people” across the same geographic area. This is a much more audacious endeavor requiring extensive regulatory consensus on all manner of industry.

While this complicates the relationships between members, it has the benefit of ensuring that products and services meet a universal standard while also allowing services – from stockbrokers to stockyards – to be traded across the union.

What exactly is Brexit?

Brexit was the decision for the UK to leave the EU. That includes the customs union, the single market, and all the legislative bodies that govern the EU (i.e. the European Parliament and European Commission).

The UK would become fully independent from the EU, free to strike its own trade deals and institute its own regulatory scheme. The departure would return a great deal of autonomy to the UK as it would have greater control over its economy without consulting EU member states.

However, the UK would forego EU membership advantages such as the bloc’s stronger collective negotiating position in trade deals and unfettered access to European markets.

Who Voted for Brexit?

However, the results of the divisive referendum were highly contentious. The ‘Leave’ campaigners (often called Brexiters or Eurosceptics) had won by a razor-thin 4% margin while the 48% who voted ‘Remain’ (Remainers or Europhiles) were left scrambling. The near-even split meant that half the country would force the other into a decision they had summarily rejected.

The results become more problematic when examining the geographic breakdown of the vote. England and Wales voted to leave while Scotland and Northern Ireland largely voted to remain – sparking questions about Scottish independence. Young and urban areas also voted to remain while older and rural areas voted to leave.

The demographic differences between voting groups revealed a domestic split in the population that would complicate the Brexit process to no end.

How did it work?

The result of the referendum meant that the UK government was obliged to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty which outlines the process for a country to leave the EU. Once Article 50 has been triggered, the clock starts on a 2-year period wherein the departing country must prepare its withdrawal. That withdrawal date is legally binding, unless the departing country and the EU government agree to an extension of the withdrawal period.

The 2-year period is meant to allow for the departing country – the UK in this case – to negotiate what their future relationship will look like with the EU. This is what is meant by the ‘Brexit negotiations’; the UK is negotiating how it’s future relationship with the EU will look and operate. Without a negotiated agreement, the UK-EU relationship will revert to the basic trade rules set out by the World Trade Organization (WTO) which would eliminate the UK’s EU membership benefits.

Then-UK Prime Minister, Theresa May, triggered Article 50 on March 29, 2017 which means the UK should have left the EU on March 29, 2019. However, the UK Parliament was unable agree on what type of relationship they wanted with the EU. Parliament was forced to ask for an extension which the EU postponed to June 30th 2019. When the UK government was still unable to pass the negotiated deal, the EU again agreed to extend the deadline; this time until October 31, 2019.

Why does Brexit matter?

The Brexit issue has potential impacts within the UK, the EU, and the global economy. As a financial hub, the UK’s decision to leave the EU sent shocks throughout financial markets. The move threatened global political and economic stability as the 2008 financial crisis recovery had not yet crystallized.

Analysts expect that the global economy will suffer from lost trade and complications from Brexit whether a deal is reached or not. More importantly, the security, political, and economic relationships between the UK and the EU would likely wane – reducing the security and quality of life in the UK.

Why was Brexit so contentious?

One of the Brexit referendum’s major criticisms was how campaigners falsely presented their arguments. While both campaigns were guilty of misusing information, the ‘Leave’ campaign’s offenses were much more egregious.

Throughout the referendum, ‘Vote Leave’ painted a Brexit that underestimated the complexities of the split while overestimating its benefits. ‘Leavers’ insisted that:

  • the UK could reclaim its £350M-weekly EU budget contributions. They failed to mention that this figure was an incomplete statistic as it was a gross total that did not consider the UK’s rebate payments or the financial benefits from EU membership.
  • the UK could retain its Single Market membership while striking its own international trade deals; something the EU has patently denied at every turn
  • Brexit would protect the UK from rampant immigration that would soon buckle under Turkey’s imminent accession to the EU. Yet Turkey has not and likely will never join the EU; while leading Brexiters have now shied away from their immigration promises that smacked of xenophobia and racism.
  • the UK was often outnumbered in EU votes by other countries in the bloc. But, in 2,601 votes since 1999, the UK voted with the majority in 95% of decisions while only voting in the minority in 2%.

Each of these claims – and many more – were debunked in the years following the vote. Brexit has not been the “easiest thing in human history” but has proven one of Britain’s most intractable challenges. Today’s Brexit looks nothing like what voters were sold in 2016; sparking criticism from Remainers who feel they were cheated in the Brexit vote.

The trail of broken promises and false claims has fueled calls for a second referendum. Now that Britons can appreciate the consequences of Brexit, they should now choose whether want to leave or remain.

Underlying Motivators for Brexit

To better understand the Brexit debate, it’s important to understand why people voted to leave in the first place. A very unique intersection of deep-seated grievances at a fractious time fueled the majoritarian ‘Leave’ result. While any number of issues were discussed and debated throughout the campaign, the overarching themes seemed to center on a core set of issues.

UK Sovereignty:

The United Kingdom has always stood apart from the rest of Europe – whether due to its culture, identity or geography. Anxiety about the UK’s EU membership has persisted since before its accession in 1973. Notably, the UK rejected the Euro in favour of their own currency, the Pound Sterling, and declined membership in the Schengen area which eliminates passport controls between 26 EU countries. 

Decades of resentment toward an unelected Brussels-based European Commission galvanized ‘Leave’ voters ready to bring policymaking authority back to a British parliament. EU regulations affected worker’s rights, the environment, working hours, financial sectors, and practically every aspect of life in the UK. The desire to ‘Take Back Control’ was at the core of Dominic Cummings’ highly effective slogan that rang out from the ‘Leave’ campaign.

Continued membership in the EU meant continuing to surrender control over domestic national fortunes. A flurry of EU crises made the choice obvious to Brexiteers that Brussels could no longer be trusted with the UK’s fate. To counter this argument, Remainers began an ineffective fear campaign emphasizing the economic disaster a ‘Leave’ vote would trigger. However, this argument failed to resonate with the voting public and brought its own problems.

Political Elitism:

Then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Project Fear’ defense was resoundingly dismissed as fearmongering meant to scare Brexiteers towards remaining.

There was little reason to believe this tactic would fail as the global economy was still working its way through the Financial and Eurozone Crises. Moreover, the same tactic had worked a year earlier in convincing Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom.

However, to Brexiteers this fearmongering was just another symptom of a disconnected political elite not understanding the conditions of the people they governed. Politicians from Westminister to Brussels were clueless of the conditions in their constituencies.

People had lost faith in the political parties of yore and were leaning toward the Eurosceptic United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) led by the charismatic Nigel Farage in a populist rejection of the political establishment. The desire to take back the country from the clutches of political elitism added a log to an already-blazing fire.

Austerity Measures:

Austerity measures had been in place for a few years by the time the Brexit referendum rolled around. Deep public expenditure cuts hamstrung many regions that supported Brexit. 25-35 percent cuts were seen in education and housing, local government, and home office provisions.

The UK had cut over 490,000 government jobs while raising the retirement age to 66 by 2020. Budgets dropped by 49 percent which raised tobacco taxes, reduced child benefits, and reduced the pensions tax allowance.

Chronic underinvestment was compounded by new austerity measures hampering infrastructure and public services. Not only were people suffering through greater unemployment, they had fewer public services on which they could rely. Despite debunking many of the ‘Leave’ campaigners’ criticisms, the ‘Remain’ campaign had no answer for the claims levelled against them.

The ‘Leave’ campaign had skillfully pinned the UK’s economic malaise on their EU membership. Claims that the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) suffered from weekly £350M payments to the EU were infamously plastered over a bus in an attempt to snag swing voters.

The false claims took hold of ‘Leave’ supporters who were all too happy to make the EU their economic scapegoat. To ‘Leave’ voters, these woes could be planted firmly at the feet of the EU and UK politicians who had failed them. To make matters worse, the austerity measures seemed to originate from problems that were outside the UK and outside their control – further stoking nationalist rancor.

2008 Financial Crisis and Eurozone Crisis:

As a global financial hub, London was hurt by the 2008 Financial Crisis. The crisis originating in the US housing market set off a chain of events that affected the global economy. While those who caused the crisis saw few, if any, consequences, the working class shouldered much of the burden from the ensuing recession.

Wages, housing prices, living standards; they had all stagnated in the years following the crisis. The working class now had little stake in the financial industry; whose recklessness had lost the faith of average people.

But the UK’s financial woes didn’t end there. In 2011, the Eurozone debt crisis took hold and the country’s economic fortunes were once again threatened by external forces. The difference this time was that this threat originated from within the EU.

The Greek debt crisis spiralled into an EU-wide emergency as multiple countries – including Portugal, Italy, Ireland, and Spain – were under threat of defaulting on their sovereign debt. Bailouts and austerity measures were arranged by the Franco-German-led EU – which Brexit voters again saw as paying for the financial mistakes of other countries.

Anti-Globalist Sentiment:

A wave of populism had first swelled across the globe in 2016 and it was now cresting over the UK. Parts of the West’s working classes – particularly those involved in manufacturing and low skilled jobs –  had suffered enormously in the shift towards a globalized world.

This group felt that global political elites had not done enough to mitigate the resulting damage or alleviate their woes. While globalization benefitted those who were urban, young, educated, and flexible, it was anathema to older, rural workers who largely made their living in the trades.

Those ‘left behind’ by globalization saw their jobs shipped off to industrialized emerging economies. Industries like mining and manufacturing were lost, leaving swathes of the population clutching at straws in a changing economy. To make matters worse, now these forgotten workers had to compete with new immigrants from lower-income EU countries.


Populism and anti-globalism went hand-in-hand with a growing anti-immigration movement. Coded messaging from the ‘Leave’ campaign capitalized on this to aggravate political cleavages. The marriage to the EU meant that workers from across all 28 countries could trek to the UK; to the tune of 285,000 in the years preceding the Brexit vote.

Arguments extoling immigration’s tax and economic benefits fell on deaf ears. Detractors saw new entrants and urban Britons prospering while they languished in record unemployment levels. Immigrants were viewed as burdening the underfunded public services while changing the face of the country far too quickly for ‘Leave’ voters’ liking.

To make matters worse, the EU had thrown the doors open to waves of refugees from the Syrian conflict. While the response was viewed as a moral obligation by some, ‘Leave’ voters saw it as another assault on Britain’s borders by an unelected foreign government.

Central Issues to Overcome in Brexit Negotiations

Brexit is unprecedented and will fundamentally change the UK-EU relationship. The UK has deep linkages with the EU that affect each other’s economic, regulatory, and political establishments.

The federalist nature of the European project likens Brexit to a constituency declaring independence from a central government. Fundamental shifts like this typically involve existential collapse – like the break up of the Soviet Union – or a central conflict – like the US Civil War.

Brexit constitutes one of the first times that a federalist partnership of this scale will be negotiated away. Negotiating a deal to develop the future UK-EU relationship relies on various issues at the heart of Brexit.

Irish Border

The border between Ireland and North Ireland has proven the most difficult and critical aspect of the Brexit negotiations. The island of Ireland is composed of two countries. The southern portion is the Republic of Ireland who is also an EU member.

Meanwhile, the northern portion – Northern Ireland – is part of the United Kingdom. Prior to Brexit, the two countries’ EU membership meant there was free movement on the island of Ireland.

The vote to leave the EU Means that North Ireland will exit the EU while Ireland will remain; creating the UK’s only land border with the EU. A hard border would require customs checks and passport control when travelling in the island of Ireland.

However, the re-establishment of a hard border would violate the Good Friday Agreement – which brought about the end of the political violence during the Troubles and eliminated the border on Ireland.


With the UK leaving the EU Single Market and Customs Union, its very likely that UK-EU trade will be disrupted. Though the UK will be free to negotiate its own trade deals, maintaining a good trade relationship with the EU is critical.

The EU receives 44% of the UK’s exports while supplying 53% of its imports. Brexit means the end of the UK’s free access to EU markets and, if WTO tariffs are thrown up in the absence of a good deal, the impacts to the UK economy could be devastating.

Brexit Bill

Commonly referred to as the UK ‘Divorce Bill,’ the Brexit Bill is includes all the financial commitments Britain made to the EU while still a member.

The commitments include things like infrastructure, social programs, the communal budget, farm subsidies, and scientific research just to name a few. Estimates of the final amount have ranged between €39BN to €60BN but the bill has been a point of contention between negotiators. British negotiators have threatened to walk away from the table without paying the bill.

However, pundits expect that UK leaders will make good on their payments before taking their leave.


EU regulatory standards were one of the major business issues during the Brexit referendum. Brexit is as much about immigration and trade as it is about regulatory standards, which impact every industry on both sides of the English Channel.

EU-imposed regulations impact product safety rules, environmental standards, worker’s rights and myriad other issues. Detangling the network of regulations will be just as complicated as the negotiations that breathed life into the Single Market.

Avoiding costly regulatory changes while maintaining fair competition with EU industries will be critical to ensuring a healthy business environment.


While Theresa May was dedicated to reducing immigration from the EU. The Refugee Crisis stirred long-standing anxieties in the UK that immigration was changing the face of the country and destabilizing British society.

However, various UK industries are bolstered by EU immigration. Healthcare, social care, construction, and hospitality would all suffer from a drop in immigration as they rely heavily on EU migrants.

Leading up to the referendum, over 50% of Brexit voters admitted that immigration was top-of-mind in their decision to leave. An outright end to free movement will be met with exclusion from the EU single market as leaders assert that the Four Freedoms – free movement of goods, people, services, and capital – are indivisible.

Financial services

The London financial industry is the UK economy’s prized jewel. In 2018, the financial sector comprised 6.9% (£132 BN) of the UK’s economy; 49% of which was generated in London.

One of a handful of global hubs, London’s financial service sector is a global gateway to EU financial markets. A London departure from the EU would leave a hole in the European financial services market. That hole would quickly need to be spackled over with another European city. While some have speculated that it may be Berlin, there exists the possibility that financial services will be spread across many cities without coalescing in any one location.

London’s future is also in question. While Brexit may be a cliff-edge for the city’s financial services, London’s status as a global financial hub predates the EU by a few centuries. London is very likely to retain its global status even after Brexit. Or it might not. Successfully navigating this uncertainty is critical to both sides of the negotiations.

Citizen’s rights

An estimated 3 million EU citizens live and work in the UK. Similarly, 1.2 million Britons live elsewhere in Europe. Both parties have a vested interest in protecting citizens’ rights and the rights of their families without having the drawbridge pulled up behind them.

Establishing a mutual and reciprocal agreement that protected the residency rights of their citizens was paramount. Those already abroad will likely be ‘grandfathered in’ to pre-Brexit immigration arrangements.

The Withdrawal Agreement hashed out between the May government and the EU made quick work on the issue as both parties felt citizens should not suffer from the fallout of Brexit. These protections remain unchanged under Boris Johnson’s agreement with the EU.


While little attention was paid to this issue at the outset, ratification proved to be the most difficult to settle. At least for the UK.

Surprisingly, all 27 remaining EU members agreed to the terms hashed out between the EU and the May government. A monumental feat accomplished by the EU’s Brexit taskforce, considering the bloc’s checkered past with consensus-making.

However, political divisions within the UK parliament have roadblocked meaningful progress on a deal. Theresa May’s deal was shot down three times in parliament before the PM’s eventual resignation.

The deal put forward by Boris Johnson was met with the same opposition, who argue that the deal would cross far too many red lines.

How The UK-EU Red Lines Intersect

Every party in the Brexit negotiations has its own set of ‘red lines’ that must absolutely be met before they agree to the deal. These red lines have been a point of contention and are the principle hurdle to striking a final Brexit deal.

Conservative Red Lines

  • Retaking control of the UK’s borders
  • Eliminate the European Court of Justice’s jurisdiction over the UK
  • Rule out the UK’s membership in the EU single market
  • Withdraw from the EU customs union
  • Preserve the good trading relationship with the EU through a free trade agreement
  • Exemption from EU budget or single market payments
  • Exemption from the EU regulatory regime

DUP Red Lines

  • Identical treatment for Northern Island and the rest of the UK
  • Maintaining a borderless Ireland free of customs or regulatory checks

Labour Red Lines

  • Establishment of a customs union with the EU
  • Maintaining closely aligned institutions and obligations with the EU single market
  • Developing UK-EU alignment on citizen rights and protections
  • UK participation in the EU’s different agencies and funding programs
  • Comprehensive and “unambiguous agreements” on a future security relationship

EU Red Lines

  • Preserving the integrity of free movement and the single market
  • Defending EU unity
  • Preserving citizens’ rights living in the UK
  • Maintaining trade links with the UK
  • Settlement of the UK’s EU budget commitments

Current conditions surrounding Brexit largely stem from the way May and Johnson’s proposed plans cross the negotiating parties’ respective red lines. Interestingly, May’s Chequers plan – despite some initial criticisms – was unanimously accepted by the 27 remaining EU countries.

However, issues with the Irish border spawned a cascade of red line violations which made the deal unacceptable to practically all of the UK parliament. May’s deal suffered a historic 432-202 defeat in the House of Commons before being shot down twice more in subsequent votes.     

The SNP, DUP, and Plaid Cymru all voted against the deal in their entirety. May’s Conservative supporters were bolstered by 3 Independent MPs and 3 Labour rebels who crossed the floor to approve the deal. Subsequent votes were successful in peeling away more Conservative MPs who had been opposed to the deal.

The second and third votes returned 149 and 58 vote deficits for May. But the original 232 vote deficit proved too great to keep May’s deal as a viable option. The string of defeats prompted May’s resignation on July 7, 2019; kicking off the leadership run that saw the rise of Boris Johnson.

How did May’s deal cross the red lines?

May’s ‘soft Brexit’ deal contained two documents. The first is a short ‘political declaration’ which outlined the UK-EU commitment to developing a good trading relationship. This document simply lays out the principles that will characterize negotiations as the two parties moved toward a stable future relationship.

The second is the withdrawal agreement. This 585-page document outlines the details of Britain’s exit from the EU. The key points of the agreement were:

  • The Brexit Divorce Bill;
  • Citizens’ Rights in the EU and UK;
  • And the Irish Backstop

The negotiations made quick work of the Citizen’s Rights and Brexit Divorce Bill, which was settled at €41.4BN.

The negotiations were largely tripped up when the topic of trade and the Irish border arose. To avoid reintroducing a hard border in Ireland, May capitulated on a number of trade and integration parameters. For instance, the plan included:

  • Accepting EU regulatory standards on industrial and agricultural goods for access to the single market
  • A split UK tariff-policy which would charge different tariffs on goods bound for the EU and those remaining in the UK. This allowed the UK to create its own international trade policy while maintaining the EU trade relationship
  • A transition period that would begin once the Brexit deadline passed to establish a future trade relationship. This transition period was in service of avoiding a hard border in Ireland. During the transition period, the entire UK would remain in the EU customs union until the final withdrawal date in 2020. If an agreement was not reached by that date, the backstop would kick in, which would keep the UK in the EU customs union indefinitely until a final deal was approved.

What red lines did it cross?

May’s deal crossed red lines of many of the parties. The Norway-lite deal created issues among EU representatives that felt the UK had cherry-picked EU rules that gave them an unfair advantage over EU producers. Despite their reservations, however, they agreed to the deal.

     DUP members balked at the notion that Northern Ireland would maintain deeper customs arrangements with the EU to avoid a hard border in Ireland. While this appeased one DUP red line – a border-free Ireland – it violated their demands for identical treatment with the rest of the UK.

      The Labour party felt the deal failed its ‘six tests’ for support. More specifically, its efforts to protect workers rights were insufficient for Labour’s likings. Additionally, Labour was likely pursuing a political gambit for an election and to eventually negotiate Brexit on their terms.     

Hard Brexit Conservatives fumed at the prospect of the Irish Backstop keeping the UK hostage in the EU customs union indefinitely. They felt it violated the spirit of Brexit and surrendered to EU will. Dominic Raab resigned in protest to the plan while Johnson had resigned months prior at the mere mention of the ‘common rulebook.’

How does Johnson’s plan cross the red lines?

Johnson’s newly agreed plan largely resembles the deal that the EU originally proposed to Theresa May. The major difference with May’s Chequers plan was Johnson’s approach to the Irish border question by scrapping the Irish Backstop. Beyond the backstop issue, Johnson’s plan looks much like May’s Chequer’s plan. Key differences between the two plans include:

  • The whole of the UK will leave the EU Customs Union – including Northern Ireland
  • Checks will not take place on goods travelling on the island of Ireland
  • However, customs checks will take place between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK
  • Northern Ireland will also maintain EU regulatory standards (such as manufacturing and labelling issues)

     Hard Brexit Conservatives are on board for what they see as a ‘clean break’ from the EU. The removal of the backstop appeases many hard Brexiters who insisted that it threatened to keep the UK in the EU Customs Union indefinitely. Rees-Mogg, a good litmus  test for hard Brexiters, has backed the deal while Johnson seems to be winning support in Parliament.

     Though the deal gives the Northern Ireland Assembly a consent vote after a 4-year period, the region’s Stormont (the Parliamentary Assembly) has not sat in years and may not be available for the first vote. Arlene Foster lambasted the deal at the DUP’s annual conference – maintaining that her party would vote against the deal.

The new agreement crosses her ‘blood red’ line of equal treatment across the EU. The new agreement effectively marks a split between Johnson’s government and Foster’s DUP – who had propped up Theresa May while she was in office.

Brexit Background

The UK’s vexed history with the EU stretches back to the 1960’s. French President Charles De Gaulle vetoed UK membership to the European Community in both 1963 and 1967. The UK’s eventual EU accession in 1973 was almost immediately challenged by the Labour party who, in 1975, held a referendum on EC membership.

The “leave” campaign won with 67% of the vote to remain in the EC with 64.5% turnout. The EU membership question would come up again in the 1983 and 1997 general elections, but the notion failed to garner significant support on both occassions.

     Margaret Thatcher, though welcoming of the EC’s economic opportunity, was suspicious of the EC’s pursuit of “ever-closer union.” Thatcher was able to negotiate reduced budgetary contributions for the UK, which was an early signal of her eventual divergence from the EC’s march toward a centralized government.

     This tradition carried through the 1993 Maastricht Treaty which created the European Union from the European Community. In addition to the political and economic integration through the EU’s central institutions, the Euro was introduced as the EU’s single currency. The UK opted out of using the Euro – choosing to continue with the Sterling Pound. Ties with the EU waxed and waned over the years as different PMs approached the relationship.

Between 2004 and 2007, the EU incorporated former Soviet countries including Hungary, Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria. The accession of these new Eastern members, coupled with the EU’s freedom of movement regulations, saw 129,000 migrants enter the UK in a two years span.

Detractors saw this as a migration crisis that could not be solved while the UK remained in the EU – a subject firmly avoided by both major political parties. The UK Independence Party began trumpeting populist notions of immigration control and appeals to thinly veiled racism; generating groundswell support from the Conservative voter-base.

To peel back the voters lost to UKIP, then-Prime Minister David Cameron promised to renegotiate UK membership in the EU. The Conservatives won with a clear majority and set about renegotiating the UK-EU relationship in 2015. In February 2016, he set the Brexit referendum date for June 23, 2016.

After negotiations with EU leadership, Cameron returned with a deal that would prove insufficient to counter Eurosceptic sentiment. Cameron campaigned for the UK to remain in the EU but, when the ‘Leave’ campaign won their 52% majority, he resigned as Prime Minister, sparking a leadership run in the Conservative party.

Brexit Timeline

June 24, 2016: David Cameron announces that he will step down as Prime Minister following the result of the Brexit referendum

July 13, 2016: Following a leadership contest within the ruling Conservative party, Theresa May becomes the new UK Prime Minister

January 17, 2017: In her Lancaster House speech, Theresa May lay’s out the government’s plans for Brexit. Her speech outlines the PM’s view for the future of the UK-EU relationship and their negotiating terms.

March 29, 2017: Theresa May triggers article 50 of the EU Treaty and sets the final divorce date for March 29, 2019. The action starts the clock on the two-year negotiating period in which the future UK-EU relationship will be determined.

June 8, 2017: Seeking a larger majority in Parliament, Theresa May calls a snap election. The gamble fails and May loses her majority, forcing her to strike a deal with the Northern Ireland DUP for their support in parliament.

June 26, 2017: Brexit negotiations between the UK and The EU begin in Brussels.

December 13, 2017: Conservative MPs rebel against Theresa May to join the Opposition in requiring a vote on the final Brexit deal.

December 15, 2017: The UK Divorce Bill is settled between both parties and the negotiations move onto the EU Citizens’ rights and the Irish border

March 19, 2018: EU citizens’ rights and a transitional period are agreed upon among other issues. The Irish border is still to be resolved.

July 6, 2018: Theresa May unveils her controversial Chequers Plan to her cabinet. Hard Brexiters are incensed by the deal.  Boris Johnson resigns from his post as Foreign Minister and David Davis resigned as Brexit Secretary in the following days. May replaces David Davis with Dominic Raab.

November 14, 2018: UK and EU negotiating teams successfully conclude the Withdrawal Agreement which sets out the terms of the final Brexit date on March 29, 2019. Theresa May presents the deal with her cabinet and publishes the deal to widespread rejection.

November 15, 2018: Dominic Raab resigns as Brexit Secretary in opposition to the deal along with various other ministers. Raab is replaced with Stephen Barclay.

November 25, 2018: The European Council approve the political declaration and endorse the withdrawal agreement.

December 10, 2018: Theresa May postpones a Meaningful Vote in parliament to garner more support for her deal.

December 12, 2018: Theresa May survives a vote of confidence from Tory rebels; winning 200 to 117.

January 16, 2019: Theresa May’s Brexit deal is voted on by the UK parliament. May suffers a crushing 432-202 defeat – the largest defeat for a policy introduced by a UK government.

March 12, 2019: After minor revisions to the previous version, May’s deal is submitted to the House of Commons for a second Meaningful Vote. Again, the deal is voted down by Parliament 391-242.

March 21, 2019: With the Brexit deadline looming, May and EU leaders agree to extend the deadline to April 12, 2019.

March 29, 2019: May’s deal is voted on and defeated for a third time in the UK Parliament – this time 344-289.

April 10, 2019: The European Council agrees to extend the Brexit deadline to October 31, 2019 but will accept the result if the UK Parliament approves the deal before the deadline. As Brexit did not take place, the UK must now participate in the EU parliamentary elections.

May 26, 2019: The Brexit Party wins the UK’s EU parliamentary elections with 31.6% of the vote.

June 7, 2019: Theresa May steps down as UK Prime Minister in a tearful speech. She regards her inability to deliver Brexit as her “biggest failure.” Her resignation kicks off a leadership race within the Conservative party.

July 23, 2019: Boris Johnson is elected leader of the Conservative party and UK Prime Minister. He campaigns on a hard Brexit and promises to deliver Brexit on October 31, “deal or no deal.”

September 4, 2019: Parliament both defeats Boris Johnson’s call for a snap election while simultaneously passing the Benn Act. The Benn act requires Johnson to seek a Brexit deadline extension if no deal has been reached by October 19.

September 9, 2019: The Benn Act becomes law; now binding Johnson to seek the extension if his deal fails. Johnson, in response chooses to prorogue, or suspend, parliament for five weeks amid a flurry of legal challenges.

September 24, 2019: The UK Supreme Court rules that the suspension of parliament was unlawful and parliament returns to session the following day.

October 02, 2019: Boris Johnson unveils his new Brexit deal with the contentious new Irish Border solution. While it receives some support from Hard line Brexiters and the DUP, the Labour-led Opposition and EU leaders largely dismiss the deal as unworkable.

October 04, 2019: In a document submitted to a Scottish Court, the Prime Minister commits to requesting a Brexit deadline extension from the EU.

October 17, 2019: After much speculation about the deal’s viability, Boris Johnson secures a deal with EU leaders. Soft support for the deal materializes, but crucial Northern Ireland support is lost when the DUP comes out against the deal.

October 19, 2019: Parliament hosts its first Saturday sitting since 1982 to debate the deal on the deadline for an extension request. Rather than vote on the deal, MPs voted in favour of forcing Johnson to request an extension. The Prime Minister complied with the legislation by having a senior diplomat submit the written extension request. EU leaders began debating the extension and their required conditions.

October 22, 2019: MPs vote to pass Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement Bill 329-299, but rejected the bill to accelerate his timeline by 322-308 as it would give them little time to scrutinize the deal. Johnson threatens to pull the deal and call for an early election.

October 28, 2019: EU leaders agree to a January 31st, 2020 “flextension” date unless UK Parliament approves the deal ahead of the deadline. Boris Johnson’s third attempt to call a snap election fails again in Parliament. Though the motion for a December 12, 2019 election date won a majority of votes (299-70) it failed to reach the two-thirds supermajority required for an early election.

October 29, 2019: Parliament votes in favour of a December 12, 2019 snap election by 438-20 after Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, supports the motion.

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