A little over two years ago, in June 2016, the people of the UK voted in a non-binding referendum to leave the EU, what is now known as Brexit. I have been following the fallout off and on but have to admit that my eyes glaze over when I read articles about Brexit, because the issues seem so complicated and technical. None of the major British political parties seem to like the idea of leaving the EU in general, though significant factions within them are pushing for it. There is talk of a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit, and things in-between. There are so many possible directions in which it can go, each of them having major problems.
This video explainer clarified the situation about what options are now on the table and their problems.
The only firm thing, as far as I can see, is that if no deal is arrived at by March 29, 2019, the UK leaves the EU and becomes, in effect, just like any other non-EU country that the EU has relations with.
Whatever happens with Brexit is not likely to create major ripples in the global economic system and should largely affect only the EU countries. If one considers the worst possible outcomes for the various parties most crucially involved (the EU, England and Wales, Scotland, Republic of Ireland, and Northern Ireland), England stands to lose the most, at least potentially. As far as the EU is concerned, losing just one of its 28 members, even a fairly substantial one like the UK, should not disrupt things too much, especially since the UK was not as invested in the EU as the other countries and demanded special treatment such as, for example, keeping its own currency. Governance might actually become simpler for the EU without the UK.
In the event of a no-deal Brexit, Scotland (which voted against leaving the EU) has the option of leaving the UK, becoming an independent country, and re-joining the EU. This would mean erecting a customs and immigration border between Scotland and England, though, the very thing people want to avoid between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Also, would the Queen then need a visa to go to her summer home in Balmoral Castle? Northern Ireland (which also voted against leaving the EU) has the option of leaving the UK and joining up with Ireland and thus becoming part of the EU again.
Such a worst-case outcome would leave just England and Wales in what in now the UK. I doubt all that will happen but the Brexit vote has made the unthinkable thinkable and by doing so, put pressure on the British government to find some solution
Given that none of the major parties in the UK are enthusiastic about leaving the EU but at the same time do not want to look as if they are overriding the will of the people as expressed in the referendum, the negotiations are likely to drag on. This may be one of those things that go down to the wire, with some kind of emergency measure passed by parliament at the last minute, possibly a decision to extend the deadline and kick the can down the road.
This illustrates the danger of non-binding referenda, which the Brexit vote was. The fact that it was non-binding may have caused some people to not take it seriously and other people to vote to ‘send a message’ thinking it may never come to pass. From the point of view of the government, one should never call for a referendum, binding or non-binding, unless one is willing to live with any outcome.