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.
- Boris Johnson
- Position: Prime Minister; Leader of the Conservative Party
- Influence level:
- 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 31st ‘do or die,’ his request for a January 31st Brexit extension was recently approved by EU leaders.
- 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 in 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.
- Johnson campaigned hard for the ‘Leave’ campaign during the 2016 Brexit referendum.
- His tenure 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 by July 24, 2019
- Influence level:
- While Frost is tasked with negotiating the UK’s position, he is not as involved with decision-making as Johnson and Dominic Cummings.
- Frost has spent a career in civil service and appears contented with filling various 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:
- As Brexit secretary, Barclay is at the center of the negotiations.
- His financial industry experience may provide insight into Brexit’s impacts on London’s prized financial sector.
- Barclay’s experience in government and the financial sector makes him a decisive connection in these high-level talks.
- His unwillingness to rule out a leadership bid and 9-year political trajectory suggests he may have his eyes set on leadership in the future.
- Sajid Javid
- Position: Chancellor of the Exchequer
- Influence level:
- A reformed ‘Remainer’ and long-time Tory with experience across the parliamentary board, Javid wields influence across the different tribes in the Conservative party.
- Prime Minister Boris Johnson tapped him to lead the UK economy through Brexit.
- Javid is an avowed Thatcherite who has already run for Conservative leadership once already; he 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:
- While the UK’s most significant Foreign Affairs issue, Brexit, is on the PM’s desk, Raab has played an instrumental role in the UK’s Brexit negotiations.
- 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 as Foreign Secretary in Johnson’s government, where he has continued to spearhead negotiations despite public accusations to the contrary.
- 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:
- 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, considerably influencing the government’s post-Brexit strategy.
- Another avowed Thatcherite, Patel has long been a Eurosceptic and railed against the EU’s free movement of people 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.
- 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.
- Dominic Cummings
- Position: Political Aide to Boris Johnson
- Influence level:
- 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.
- Cummings has been an ardent supporter of civil service reform for quite some time, and he sees an opportunity to the 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.
- 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:
- Under Rees-Mogg’s leadership, The ERG – a hardline Brexiteer tribe within the Conservative Party – were able to undermine Theresa May’s Chequers Plan.
- 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 in 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.
- Steve Baker
- Position: Conservative MP and current ERG Chairman
- Influence Level:
- 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.
- 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 group’s intentions over the medium term.
- 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 the government and the ERG.
- His time amongst the country’s leadership suggests he may continue onto a significant 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
- Simon Hart
- Position: Leader of the Brexit Delivery Group (BDG)
- Influence level:
- 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 primarily supporters of Theresa May’s Chequers plan and sought to avoid a no-deal Brexit at any cost.
- Hart’s pragmatism allowed him to coordinate a group of like-minded MPs to support Theresa May’s deal.
- He was promoted to Minister of Implementation upon Boris Johnson’s leadership victory.
- 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
- Nigel Farage
- Position: Leader of the Brexit party
- Former head of the UK Independence Party (UKIP)
- Member of the European Parliament since 1999
- Influence Level:
- 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 significant 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.
- For years, Farage has supported the UK’s exit from the EU.
- Initially 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.
- Position: Leader of the Brexit party
- Arlene Foster
- Position: DUP Leader
- Influence level:
- As the 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- A Eurosceptic, she campaigned for the ‘Leave’ campaign and was most interested in securing a border-free Ireland.
- DUP Members
- Gregory Campbell
- Nigel Dodds
- Sir Jeffrey M. Donaldson
- Paul Girvan
- Emma Little Pengelly
- Ian PaisleyGavin Robinson
- Jim Shannon
- David Simpson
- Sammy Wilson
- Theresa May
- Position: Former UK Prime Minister
- Influence Level:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Philip Hammond
- Position: Former Chancellor of the Exchequer and Tory Grandee
- Influence level:
- 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.
- 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
- Jeremy Corbyn
- Position: Labour Party Leader and Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons
- Influence level:
- 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 affect his influence.
- Previously relegated to the fringes of his party for his socialist views, Corbyn won the 2015 Labour leadership run before the Brexit referendum.
- His Labour party won big in the 2017 snap election when Theresa May, seeking more significant support for her coming deal, lost her parliamentary majority.
- To knock down Boris Johnson’s proposed Brexit plan, opposition leaders debated a vote of confidence to install an interim unity government.
- Corbyn’s insistence on leading said government ended the potential alliance in its crib.
- Tom Watson
- Position: Labour Party Deputy Leader
- Influence level:
- Wielding a fair amount of influence in his party, Watson may succeed Corbyn if he were to step down.
- Emily Thornberry
- Position: Shadow Foreign Secretary
- Influence level:
- Thornberry has helped steer Labour’s position but has little involvement in policymaking.
- Thornberry ardently supports remaining within the EU and a second referendum.
- Diane Abbott
- Position: Shadow Home Secretary
- Influence level:
- Abbott’s influence within Labour rises as her close connection to Corbyn becomes more evident.
- Abbot’s close ties to Corbyn have pushed her closer to the spotlight on the Brexit debate – helping to influence public opinion.
- Nicola Sturgeon
- Position: Leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP).
- Influence level:
- 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.
- Scotland overwhelmingly voted ‘Remain’ during the Brexit referendum.
- The results rekindled Scottish independence movements that thrust Sturgeon to the front of the Brexit debate.
- 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
- Jo Swinson
- Position: Leader of the Liberal Democrat (Lib Dems) Party
- Influence Level:
- 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
- Adam Price
- Position: Plaid Cymru Leader
- Influence Level:
- 4 seats in Parliament Plaid Cymru’s small footprint has little impact on the Brexit debate.
- 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.
- Plaid Cymru Members
- Jonathan Edwards
- Ben lake
- Saville Roberts
- Hywel Williams
- Leo Varadkar
- Position: Irish Taoiseach (Prime Minister)
- Influence level:
- Ireland’s youngest Prime Minister assumed office in 2017 and leads the Fine Gael party’s 55-seat coalition government.
- Michel Barnier
- Position: European Commission Chief Brexit Negotiator
- Influence level:
- Barnier has been asked to remain as the EU Chief Brexit negotiator by incoming EC President Ursula von der Leyen.
- 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:
- While Seeuws is involved with the negotiations, his capacity is more of an adviser than a policymaker.
- 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:
- Verhofstadt has no formal role in the negotiations though he represents the European Parliament.
- As the Parliament must approve any deal hashed out, his involvement is still critical.
- Brexit saw Verhofstadt elevated from his 10-year stint as a Member of the European Parliament to his current position as chief Brexit coordinator.
- 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:
- 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.
- Juncker considers Brexit a ‘disaster’ and would prefer reversing the 2016 referendum.
- However, instead 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:
- 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.
- Tusk lamented the 2016 results publicly and said 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:
- Merkel has no official role in the negotiations, but her position as the head of the EU’s largest economy makes her input invaluable.
- 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.
- Emmanuel Macron
- Position: President of France
- Influence level:
- Macron is not formally involved in the Brexit negotiations, but his input and influence will likely impact any proposed deal.
- If Macron seeks political leverage, he may veto an extension request to end the saga.
- Brexit has pushed Macron into his bout of brinksmanship as he attempts to squeeze the UK government without holding the bag on collapsed talks.
- 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.
Boris Johnson has now successfully obtained the snap election he has sought for months. The UK will go to the polls on December 12, 2019; 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 primarily 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 occur between the UK and Northern Ireland – creating a customs barrier in the Irish Sea. Taxes would be treated differently depending on whether goods remained in Northern Ireland or continued 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 occur 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 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 raising 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 significant 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.
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: no one wants a hard Brexit.
Labour, in particular, sports a divided electorate, with MPs on either side of the “Leave or Remain” debate. 19 Labour MPs voted in favor of Boris Johnson’s deal under mounting pressure from their constituents to honour the results of the Brexit referendum. This clarifies 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 are 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.
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 approved 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.
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.
EU leaders have fervently prepared for a potential no-deal Brexit throughout the saga. The plans have been comprehensive 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 free movement of people, 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. The EU has factored in a budgetary shortfall if the UK does not settle the Brexit divorce bill.
The EU is approaching a no-deal Brexit like it would approach a natural catastrophe. It will release disaster relief funds to aid businesses, workers, and regulatory systems hardest hit by the Brexit shock. Emergency funding of 780 million euros has been released in preparation for the potential of a no-deal Brexit.
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 occurred during a national referendum on June 23, 2016, when 17.4 million voters (52%) voted to leave the EU, much to the dismay of the 16.1 million (48%) who voted to remain. The campaign was brutally divisive and split the country in half. The results meant that the UK would be the first to withdraw from 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 aim of economic integration to prevent the possibility of another European war. The 1992 signing of the Maastricht Treaty by members of the European Community created the European Union. The economic and political union of what would grow to be 28 European countries eliminated internal borders and allowed for the 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.
In short, a customs union is a trade agreement. It is a treaty between two (or more) countries that promise 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 brought into the customs union are charged a single tariff, but once inside the customs union, there are no more tariffs or customs checks. This arrangement is similar to a free trade agreement (FTA), except countries in an FTA can set their own tariffs with third countries instead of 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.
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 in all industries.
This makes it harder for members to get along, but it ensures that all products and services meet the same standard and makes it possible to trade services across the union, from stockbrokers to stockyards.
Brexit was the UK’s decision 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 great autonomy to the UK, as it would have greater economic control without consulting EU member states.
But the UK would give up some of the benefits of being in the EU, like the bloc’s stronger negotiating position regarding trade deals and free access to European markets.
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 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.
The referendum result 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 during which the departing country must prepare its withdrawal. That withdrawal date is legally binding unless the departing country and the EU government agree to extend the withdrawal period.
The 2-year period allows the departing country—the UK in this case—to negotiate their future relationship with the EU. The “Brexit negotiations” mean that the UK is negotiating how its future relationship with the EU will look and operate. Without a negotiated agreement, the UK-EU relationship will revert to the primary trade rules the World Trade Organization (WTO) set out, 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 could not agree on the relationship it wanted with the EU. Parliament was forced to ask for an extension, which the EU postponed until June 30th, 2019. When the UK government could not pass the negotiated deal, the EU again agreed to extend the deadline until October 31, 2019.
The Brexit issue potentially impacts the UK, the EU, and the global economy. As a financial hub, the UK’s decision to leave the EU sent shockwaves throughout financial markets. The move threatened global political and economic stability as the 2008 financial crisis recovery had not yet crystallized.
Analysts expect 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.
One of the Brexit referendum’s significant 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 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 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—was 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 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 choose whether to leave or remain.
To better understand the Brexit debate, it’s essential to understand why people voted to leave in the first place. A unique intersection of deep-seated grievances at a fractious time fueled the majoritarian ‘Leave’ result. While issues were discussed and debated throughout the campaign, the overarching themes seemed to center on a core set of issues.
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 favor 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 workers’ rights, the environment, working hours, financial sectors, and every aspect of the UK’s life. The desire to ‘Take Back Control’ was at the core of Dominic Cummings’ highly effective slogan from the ‘Leave’ campaign.
Continued membership in the EU meant surrendering more control over domestic national fortunes. A flurry of EU crises made the choice evident to Brexiteers that Brussels could no longer be trusted with the UK’s fate. Remainers began an ineffective fear campaign to counter this argument, emphasizing the economic disaster a ‘Leave’ vote would trigger. However, this argument failed to resonate with the voting public and brought its own problems.
Then-Prime Minister David Cameron’s ‘Project Fear’ defense was resoundingly dismissed as fearmongering meant to scare Brexiteers toward remaining.
There was little reason to believe this tactic would fail as the global economy was still working through the Financial and Eurozone Crises. Moreover, the same tactic had worked a year earlier to convince Scotland to remain in the United Kingdom.
On the other hand, fear-mongering was just another sign to Brexiteers that the political elite was not in touch with the people they ruled. Politicians from Westminster to Brussels were clueless about 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 had been in place for a few years by the time the Brexit referendum rolled around. Deep cuts to public expenditure hamstrung many regions that supported Brexit. 25–35 per cent of the 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 per cent, raising tobacco taxes, reducing child benefits, and reducing the pension tax allowance.
Chronic underinvestment was compounded by new austerity measures hampering infrastructure and public services. Not only were people suffering from greater unemployment, but they also 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 its EU membership. Claims that the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) suffered from weekly £350 million payments to the EU were infamously plastered over a bus 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 outside the UK and outside their control—further stoking nationalist rancor.
As a global financial hub, London was hurt by the 2008 Financial Crisis. The crisis 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 bore much of the burden of the ensuing recession.
Wages, housing prices, and living standards 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 external forces again threatened the country’s economic fortunes. The difference this time was that this threat originated from within the EU.
The Greek debt crisis spiraled 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.
A wave of populism first swelled globally in 2016 and is now cresting in the UK. Parts of the West’s working-class—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 benefited those who were urban, young, educated, and flexible, it was anathema to older, rural workers who essentially 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, 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 union to the EU meant that workers from all 28 countries could trek to the UK, to 285,000 in the years preceding the Brexit vote.
Arguments extolling immigration’s tax and economic benefits fell on deaf ears. Detractors saw new entrants and urban Britons prospering while languishing 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 some viewed the response as a moral obligation, ‘Leave’ voters saw it as another assault on Britain’s borders by an unelected foreign government.
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 collapses—like the breakup 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.
The border between Ireland and North Ireland has proven to be the most challenging and critical aspect of the Brexit negotiations. The island of Ireland is composed of two countries. The southern portion is the Republic of Ireland, which is also an EU member.
Meanwhile, the northern portion—Northern Ireland—is part of the United Kingdom. Before 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 traveling on the island of Ireland.
However, re-establishing 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 in Ireland.
With the UK leaving the EU Single Market and Customs Union, it’s 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 on the UK economy could be devastating.
Commonly referred to as the UK ‘Divorce Bill,’ the Brexit Bill includes all the financial commitments Britain made to the EU while still a member.
The commitments include infrastructure, social programs, the communal budget, farm subsidies, and scientific research, to name a few. Estimates of the final amount have ranged from €39 billion to €60 billion, but the bill has been a point of contention between negotiators. British negotiators have threatened to leave 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 significant 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, workers’ 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.
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 services 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.
An estimated 3 million EU citizens live and work in the UK. Similarly, 1.2 million Britons live elsewhere in Europe. Both parties are vested 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 of 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. The EU’s Brexit task force accomplished a monumental feat, considering the bloc’s checkered past with consensus-making.
However, political divisions within the UK parliament have blocked 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, which argued that the deal would cross far too many red lines.
Every party in the Brexit negotiations has a set of “red lines” that must be met before they agree to the deal. These “red lines” have been a point of contention and are the principal hurdle to striking a final Brexit deal.
- 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
- 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
Current conditions surrounding Brexit largely stem from how May and Johnson’s proposed plans cross the negotiating parties’ red lines. Interestingly, despite some initial criticisms, May’s Chequers plan was unanimously accepted by the 27 remaining EU countries.
However, issues with the Irish border spawned a cascade of red-line violations, making 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. 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 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.
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 outlines the principles that will characterize negotiations as the two parties move 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 trade and the Irish border arose. May capitulated on several trade and integration parameters to avoid reintroducing a hard border in Ireland. 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 international trade policy while maintaining the EU trade relationship.
- A transition 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 were not reached by that date, the backstop would kick in, keeping the UK in the EU customs union indefinitely until a final deal was approved.
What red lines did it cross?
May’s deal crossed the red lines of many of the parties. The Norway-lite deal created issues among EU representatives who 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 baulked 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 liking. Additionally, Labour was likely pursuing a political gambit for an election and eventually negotiating 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 the EU’s will. Dominic Raab resigned in protest to the plan, while Johnson had resigned months prior at the mere mention of the ‘common rulebook.’
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 occur 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 the ‘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 propped up Theresa May while she was in office.
The UK’s vexed history with the EU stretches back to the 1960s. French President Charles De Gaulle vetoed UK membership to the European Community in 1963 and 1967. The UK’s eventual EU accession in 1973 was almost immediately challenged by the Labour party, which in 1975 held a referendum on EC membership.
The “leave” campaign won 67% of the vote to remain in the EC with a 64.5% turnout. The EU membership question would appear again in the 1983 and 1997 general elections, but the notion failed to garner significant support on both occasions.
Though welcoming of the EC’s economic opportunity, Margaret Thatcher was suspicious of the EC’s pursuit of an “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 was 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 several 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-year 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 the 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.
- June 24, 2016: David Cameron announces that he will step down as Prime Minister after 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 lays out the government’s plans for Brexit. Her speech outlines the PM’s view on 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: Theresa May calls a snap election to seek a more significant majority in Parliament. 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 resigned from his post as Foreign Minister, and David Davis resigned as Brexit Secretary in the following days. May replaced 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 presented the deal with her cabinet and published the deal to widespread rejection.
- November 15, 2018: Dominic Raab resigns as Brexit Secretary in opposition to the deal and various other ministers. Stephen Barclay replaces Raab.
- November 25, 2018: The European Council approved the Political Declaration and endorsed 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 the 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 occur, 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 for a hard Brexit and promises to deliver Brexit on October 31, “deal or no deal.”
- September 4, 2019: Parliament 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 ruled that the suspension of parliament was unlawful, and parliament returned 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 Hardline 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 to force 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 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.
Brexit Timeline II
- October 29, 2019: The Prime Minister proposes an early general election. The motion has been defeated. [Although a majority voted in favor (299 votes to 70), the number of votes required (434) under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 was not met.]
- October 30, 2019: Ministers approve the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 (Exit Day) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2019, which officially moves the “exit day” to January 31, 2020. The government introduced the Early Parliamentary General Election Bill, which calls for a General Election on December 12. The Bill passes through the Commons and is sent to the Lords.
- December 12, 2019: The UK held a general election. The Conservative Party wins a majority of 365 seats, with the Labour Party coming in second with 202.
- December 12-13, 2019: The European Council meets. EU27 leaders discuss Brexit and call for the withdrawal agreement to be ratified and implemented as soon as possible. They also reiterate their desire to maintain the closest possible future relationship with the United Kingdom.
- December 13, 2019: Prime Minister Boris Johnson commits in a statement outside 10 Downing Street to “complete Brexit by January 31 2020.”
December 19, 2019: State Opening of Parliament. In the Queen’s Speech, Her Majesty says: My Government’s priority is to deliver the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union on January 31. My Ministers will bring forward legislation to ensure the United Kingdom’s exit on that date and to make the most of the opportunities that this brings for all the people of the United Kingdom. Thereafter, my Ministers will seek a future relationship with the European Union based on a free trade agreement that benefits the whole of the United Kingdom. They will also begin trade negotiations with other leading global economies. The Government publishes the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
- December 20, 2019: The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill received 358 favor votes to 234 against in the House of Commons on December 20, 2019.
- January 7, 2020: The first day of the Committee Stage in the House of Commons for the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill.
January 8, 2020: The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is in its second day of Committee Stage in the House of Commons before proceeding to the Third Reading. At Downing Street, the Prime Minister meets with European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Ursula von der Leyen later gives a speech at the LSE on ‘Old friends, new beginnings: building another future for the EU-UK partnership’.
- January 9, 2020: The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill advances to the House of Lords after passing the Third Reading stage. Michel Barnier speaks in Sweden, stating that the EU will continue to prepare for a no-deal Brexit at the end of 2020.
- January 13, 2020: The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill receives its Second Reading in the House of Lords.
- January 14, 2020: The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill enters the Committee Stage in the House of Lords.
- January 15, 2020: The House of Lords debates the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill on day two of its committee stage.
- January 16, 2020: The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is in its third day of the Committee Stage in the House of Lords, after which it will proceed to the Third Reading.
- January 20, 2020: Peers discuss the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill on the first day of the Report Stage. Boris Johnson suffered his first loss on the Bill when Lord Oates’ amendment passed by 269 votes to 229, requiring EU nationals living in the UK to obtain a physical document proving their right to be in the country.
- January 21, 2020: The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill is in the Report Stage in the House of Lords for the second time. The Bill is then read a third time and returned to the Commons with changes.
- January 22, 2020: MPs discuss and vote on the Lords’ changes to the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill. These improvements are then debated and accepted by peers. EU27 ambassadors support transparency norms for post-Brexit talks.
- January 23, 2020: The European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill obtains Royal Assent and becomes the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020. This law will implement the divorce agreement between the UK and the EU.
January 24, 2020: The Withdrawal Agreement was signed in Brussels by EU Presidents Charles Michel and Ursula von der Leyen. Prime Minister Boris Johnson later signs the agreement in London.
- January 29, 2020: The European Parliament approves the Brexit deal.
- January 30, 2020: The EU ratifies the Withdrawal Agreement.
- January 31, 2020: At 11 pm, the United Kingdom exits the European Union and enters a transition period that will last until the end of the year.
The transition period (1 Feb – 31 Dec 2020)
- February 1, 2020: The transition period starts.
- February 25, 2020: The European Council decides to start negotiations on a new partnership with the United Kingdom.
- February 27, 2020: Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove delivers a statement in the House of Commons on the Government’s approach to the UK’s future relationship with the European Union. The government issued a paper titled “The Future Relationship with the EU. The Negotiation Strategy of the United Kingdom.”
- March 18, 2020: A draft legal agreement covering the future EU-UK partnership is published by the European Commission.
- March 30, 2020: The Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee convenes via teleconference for the first time, co-chaired by Michael Gove and European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič.
- April 28, 2020: Michael Gove outlines the discussion points from the second round of UK-EU future relationship negotiations in a Written Statement. Michael Gove outlines the discussion points from the second round of UK-EU future relationship negotiations in a Written Statement.
- May 19, 2020: In response to an Urgent Question, Michael Gove updates the House of Commons on the UK’s future relationship with the EU. In a written statement, Michael Gove presents the discussion points from the third round of UK-EU future relationship negotiations. The UK government publishes the ten draft treaty texts it has tabled in future relationship talks. The government also released a letter sent on the same day by David Frost to Michel Barnier. Mr Barnier will respond the next day.
- May 20, 2020: The Government publishes its approach to implementing the Northern Ireland Protocol, outlining how the UK will meet its obligations under the Protocol, which include maintaining Northern Ireland’s place in the UK and upholding the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement. Michael Gove also makes a statement to the House of Commons on the Northern Ireland Protocol: UK Approach.
- June 4, 2020: MPs debate the EU’s mandate to negotiate a new partnership with the United Kingdom.
- June 9, 2020: Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt updates the House of Commons on the fourth round of negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU in response to an Urgent Question.
- June 12, 2020: The Joint Committee on the Withdrawal Agreement holds its second meeting.
- June 15, 2020: By videoconference, the Prime Minister meets the Presidents of the European Council, the European Commission, and the European Parliament. The Prime Minister asked the EU leaders to “put a tiger in the tank” of the stalled talks during the meeting.
- June 16, 2020: Michael Gove delivers a statement to the House of Commons on UK-EU relations, updating members on the previous day’s high-level meeting.
- June 25, 2020: Conclusions on EU-UK relations are adopted by the European Council.
- June 29 – July 3, 2020: The fifth round of UK-EU future relationship negotiations takes place.
- June 30, 2020: The deadline for requesting a transition period extension, which was set to end at the end of December, passes.
- July 12, 2020: The UK Government announces a £705 million investment to fund new infrastructure, jobs, and technology to ensure that British border systems are fully operational after the transition ends.
- July 13, 2020: Michael Gove gives the House of Commons a statement on UK preparations for the end of the transition period.
- July 16, 2020: The Government issues a White Paper on the UK Internal Market, outlining policy options for ensuring the free flow of goods and services across the UK after the transition period ends. In the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy leads a debate on the White Paper.
- September 9, 2020: The UK Internal Market Bill is introduced.
- September 10, 2020: The Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee meets at Lancaster House to discuss matters including the UK Internal Market Bill and the Northern Ireland Protocol. The Government publishes its legal position on the UK Internal Market Bill and Northern Ireland Protocol. Following the publication of the draft of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič meets Michael Gove in London for an extraordinary meeting of the EU-UK Joint Committee. Vice-President Šefčovič states that if the Bill were adopted, it would constitute an extremely serious violation of the Withdrawal Agreement and international law. A statement issued by the European Commission reads: The EU does not accept the argument that the aim of the draft [internal market] bill is to protect the Good Friday (Belfast) agreement. In fact, it is of the view that it does the opposite.
- September 11, 2020: Leaders of the European Parliament have stated that they will not consent to a future deal between the EU and the UK if London violates the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. A statement by the UK Coordination Group and the leaders of the political groups of the EP states: Should the UK authorities breach – or threaten to breach – the Withdrawal Agreement through the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill in its current form or any other way, the European Parliament will, under no circumstances, ratify any agreement between the EU and the UK.
- September 14, 2020: The UK Internal Market Bill is now in its second reading.
- September 15, 2020: The first day of the UK Internal Market Bill’s Committee Stage.
- September 16, 2020: In her first ‘State of the Union Address,’ European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned the UK Government against abandoning the Brexit deal, stating that the Withdrawal Agreement had been ratified by MEPs and MPs and could not be “unilaterally changed, disregarded, or disapplied,” and that “this is a matter of law and trust and good faith.” The second day of the Committee Stage of the UK Internal Market Bill.
- September 21, 2020: The third day of the UK Internal Market Bill’s Committee Stage.
- September 22, 2020: The fourth day of the UK Internal Market Bill’s Committee Stage.
- September 23, 2020: Michael Gove makes an oral statement about transition period preparations in the Commons.
- September 28, 2020: The Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee holds its next meeting. Following the meeting, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič reiterated the EU’s opposition to the UK Internal Market Bill, stating: We maintain that the bill, if adopted in its current form, would constitute an extremely serious violation of the [Northern Ireland] protocol as an essential part of the withdrawal agreement and international law. The withdrawal agreement is to be implemented, not renegotiated, let alone unilaterally changed, disregarded or disapplied.
- September 29, 2020: The UK Internal Market Bill is in its report stage. The Bill is passed on the Third Reading by a vote of 340-256 and is sent to the House of Lords.
- October 1, 2020: Ursula von der Leyen, President of the European Commission, announces that the EU will initiate legal proceedings to prevent the UK from using domestic legislation to override aspects of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.
- October 2, 2020: The Port Infrastructure Fund, a £200 million fund for ports to build new border facilities, is established by the government.
- October 8, 2020: The Government releases an updated GB-EU Border Operating Model, which provides additional detail for businesses and passengers on how the GB-EU border will operate after the transition period ends.
- October 15, 2020: The European Council brings together EU heads of state and government. The Council’s conclusions reaffirm the EU’s original negotiating mandate.
- October 16, 2020: The Prime Minister issues a statement on EU negotiations, suspending future-relationship talks and concluding that the UK should prepare for an Australian-style trade deal based on simple global free trade principles.
- October 19, 2020: The Joint Committee on the Withdrawal Agreement meets. Michael Gove addresses the House of Commons, updating members on the UK Government’s negotiations with the EU, the future trading relationship, and the work of the UK/EU Joint Committee established by the withdrawal agreement. The Lords begin debate on the UK Internal Market Bill’s Second Reading.
- October 20, 2020: Michael Gove outlines the main discussion points from the previous meeting of the Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee in a Written Statement. The UK Internal Market Bill receives its Second Reading in the House of Lords before being referred to a Committee of the Whole House.
- October 21, 2020: The Prime Minister makes a statement on future UK-EU talks, inviting the EU team to London to resume talks later that week. Michel Barnier addresses the European Parliament’s Plenary Session, updating MEPs on the status of Brexit negotiations.
- October 26, 2020: First Day of the Committee Stage debate on the UK Internal Market Bill in the House of Lords.
- October 28, 2020: Second Day of the Committee Stage debate on the UK Internal Market Bill in the House of Lords.
- November 2, 2020: Third Day of the Committee Stage debate on the UK Internal Market Bill in the House of Lords.
- November 4, 2020: Fourth Day of the Committee Stage debate on the UK Internal Market Bill in the House of Lords.
- November 9, 2020: Fifth Day of the Committee Stage debate on the UK Internal Market Bill in the House of Lords.
- November 11, 2020: The Immigration Act is given Royal Assent, meaning free movement will end at 11 p.m. on December 31, 2020.
- November 18, 2020: In response to an Urgent Question, the Minister of State in the Northern Ireland Office updates the House of Commons on the Northern Ireland Protocol’s implementation preparations. On the first day of the Report Stage debate in the House of Lords on the UK Internal Market Bill, peers back an amendment to the bill, resulting in a defeat for the government (by 367 votes to 209) intended to prevent Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland from being sidelined when internal market rules for the UK are drawn up.
- November 23, 2020: The second day of the Report Stage debate on the UK Internal Market Bill in the House of Lords.
- November 25, 2020: The third day of the Report Stage debate on the UK Internal Market Bill in the House of Lords.
- December 2, 2020: The UK Internal Market Bill receives the Third Reading in the House of Lords and is sent back to the Commons with amendments.
- December 5, 2020: Boris Johnson and Ursula von der Leyen talk on the phone before stating the status of negotiations. They observed significant differences in three areas: level playing field, governance, and fisheries.
- December 7, 2020: The Paymaster General updates the House of Commons on the UK’s negotiations with the European Union in response to an Urgent Question. MPs debate Lords’ amendments to the UK Internal Market Bill.
December 8, 2020: Following their most recent meeting, the co-chairs of the EU-UK Joint Committee issued a statement announcing their agreement in principle on all issues, notably the Northern Ireland Protocol. In light of the agreement, the government withdrew the Internal Market Bill clauses that had resulted in EU infringement proceedings.
- December 9, 2020: Michael Gove makes an oral statement in the Commons on implementing the Northern Ireland protocol as part of the EU withdrawal agreement. The House of Lords considers the Commons Reasons and Amendments to the UK Internal Market Bill. Boris Johnson and Van der Leyen dine at the European Commission, and their conversation lasts about three hours.
- December 10, 2020: The Paymaster General updates the House of Commons on the UK’s negotiations with the EU in response to an Urgent Question.
- December 14, 2020: Further Commons Reasons and Amendments to the UK Internal Market Bill are being considered by the House of Lords.
- December 15, 2020: Further Commons Reasons and Amendments to the UK Internal Market Bill are being considered by the House of Lords.
- December 17, 2020: The United Kingdom Internal Market Act was enacted after the UK Internal Market Bill received Royal Assent. The Withdrawal Agreement Joint Committee convenes via video conference to approve all formal decisions and practical solutions related to the Withdrawal Agreement’s implementation on January 1st, 2021. Parliament adjourns for the Christmas break, warning that members will be summoned if a Brexit deal is not passed into law by January 1st.
- December 20, 2020: The UK-EU talks have gone beyond the deadline set by the European Parliament to hold a consent vote on an agreement before the end of the year.
December 24, 2020: The Brexit agreement (the EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement) has been signed by both parties. According to the Prime Minister, the agreement allows the United Kingdom to “take back control.” In the meantime, Ursula von der Leyen states about the agreement, calling it “fair and balanced,” and Michel Barnier also gave his remarks.
- December 29, 2020: The EU Council adopts a decision on the signing and provisional application of the Trade and Cooperation Agreement (pending a consent vote by the European Parliament in early 2021).
- December 30, 2020: The European Union (Future Relationship) Bill receives 521 votes to 73 in the House of Commons on its Second Reading. The Bill goes through the Report Stage and is passed on the Third Reading by a vote of 521 to 73. The Bill passes its Second Reading and the remaining stages in the House of Lords before receiving Royal Assent and becoming an Act of Parliament: the European Union (Future Relationship) Act. MSPs in Scotland voted against the UK-EU trade deal. Although the bill is not a matter for the Scottish Parliament, its members vote to support a Scottish Government motion stating that the agreement would cause “severe damage to Scotland’s environmental, economic, and social interests.” European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen sign the Trade and Cooperation Agreement on behalf of the European Union. The Agreement is then sent to London and signed on behalf of the United Kingdom by Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
December 31, 2020: At 11 p.m., the Brexit transition period ends. The United Kingdom exits the EU’s single market and customs union, and EU law no longer applies to the United Kingdom.