What exactly is happening with Brexit?


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.
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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.

Comments

  1. Holms says

    At 5:12 we hear: “Politicians are highly attuned to the public mood…” which is utter rubbish. Usually, they are overcautious to an absurd degree, and only react years after something becomes popular. That said, I heartily endorse the idea of the UK not leaving the EU, citing the simple truth that certain relatively large political changes require a supermajority to enact. I’m suggesting the crazy idea that joining or leaving the EU is a large enough change that it ought to have that requirement.

  2. deepak shetty says

    I also find the pro-Brexit position of “Once the people have spoken , they cant change their minds!(especially if they have been hoodwinked!) to be funny (in context of proposals for another referendum).

  3. jazzlet says

    I hope we don’t leave, I hope what has happened will mean we are in no position to negotiate any concessions, and that our ability to hold back the European programme will be limited because our clout will be severely limited as a result of fucking around the rest of Europe, when there are serious problems like what’s going on in Poland and ahungary that need attention. I am not stockpiling drugs because it’s become quite difficult to do so, but I am concerned about running out if we crash out without a deal. If that happens I will be camping out on my jumped up puppy of a Conservative MP’s doorstep until he at least sorts me out some pills.

  4. Wounded King says

    I think that either Scotland or Northern Ireland separating themselves form the UK and rejoining the EU is less of a choice than you present it. NI doesn’t have a working government at the moment, since their devolved assembly collapsed over a year ago, so I’m not sure what body could even organize such a move.

    For Scotland, even if it were to become independent following a new referendum there is a substantial question as to what its position would be regarding joining the EU, indeed this was a common point of contention during the previous Scottish Independence referendum in 2014. I suspect that without a clear message from the EU on what path to membership an independent Scotland would have a new referendum would probably still see a win for the NO vote against independence, although the margin will probably be smaller.

    As to the Queen, the current proposals from the SNP say they would maintain her as head of state, so she probably wouldn’t need a visa.

  5. says

    If they love the “will of the people” so much, then why not put up a second vote with multiple choices such as: A. Soft, B. Hard, C. Sorry I was very drunk at the time so just leave it as it is.

  6. sonofrojblake says

    The Leave vote skewed old. Young people overwhelmingly voted remain. The margin was about a million votes.
    Leaving aside how many Leave voters have changed their minds now they see what an unmitigated clusterfuck it’s going to be, the stat I want to know is this: how many of that million are already dead? How many more will be before next April? Statistically it’s likely quite a few – possibly most. Nobody mentions this.

  7. jrkrideau says

    I cannot see why one cannot have another referendum, says he who has survived two Québec referenda.

    As @ 6 Wounded King says As to the Queen, the current proposals from the SNP say they would maintain her as head of state
    Presumably this is a reversion to before the 1707 Acts of Union. Her majesty simply resumes the title of Queen of Scotland.

  8. says

    The problem really is that the Conservative party never expected a “Leave” victory. They were hoping that the referendum would return a slim majority in favour of remaining in the EU, and then the question need never be asked again (at least, not for a generation or thereabouts).

    But given who was supporting “Remain”, it should have been obvious that they would never win. People voted “Leave” with no clue about the consequences; only because it was clearly the opposite of what the establishment wanted.

    Never mind that they were cutting off their dick to annoy their balls …..

  9. sonofrojblake says

    @bluerizlagirl, 9:

    given who was supporting “Remain”, it should have been obvious that they would never win

    Not at all. Here’s what I posted on Facebook just before the vote:

    “I don’t know whether Leave or Remain would be a better vote.
    If they are honest, neither does anyone else. So since the facts can’t help, I’m going to choose my company.

    Remain has every living Prime Minister, the Labour Party, the majority of Tories who aren’t racist swivel-eyed loons, the Lib Dems (remember them?), Barack Obama, Kofi Annan, the G7, Unite the Union, Asda, M&S, Mars, Tim Berners-Lee, Jeremy Clarkson (yes, I checked…), Bob Geldof, JK Rowling, Gary Kasparov, Ian McKellen, basically all of the NHS, the Royal Society, Peter Higgs (the man with the boson) and Paloma Faith.

    Leave has got… the BNP, UKIP, “Respect” (i.e. George Galloway), Duncan Bannatyne, Rupert Murdoch, Theo Paphitis, Michael Gove and Boris Johnson and the bits of the Tories who are ARE swivel-eyed racist loons (and ten Labour rebels), Marine LePen (French National Front leader), Geert Wilders (Dutch “Freedom Party” leader), Donald Trump, Aspall Cider, Go Ape, Wetherspoons, David Icke, Julian Assange, Keith Chegwin, Katie Hopkins, Arthur Scargill, The Express, the Mail and the Sunday Sport.

    Since you *definitely* don’t have enough information to know which vote would be best (just like everyone else)… vote for whichever of those two groups you feel most comfortable in.”

    Incredibly, more people felt at home with the second group than the first. Mostly old, mostly stupid people (fact, not speculation – voting Leave was heavily proportionaly to older age groups and lower educational attainment).

  10. rjw1 says

    It’s surprising what a mess that the British have made of Brexit. The ‘referendum’ was in fact a plebiscite, I’d expected that the country’s political elites would have effectively ignored the result. Very strange indeed.

  11. sonofrojblake says

    It’s surprising what a mess that about a third of the Conservative Party’s MPs have made of Brexit

    FIFY.

    Make no mistake, this is only happening because a minority of Tory MPs just wouldn’t shut the fuck up about Europe, for decades. Literally nobody else wanted this, just an extremely small bunch of rich, white, mainly male, almost entirely upper class gobshites. And David Cameron, in the most massive political miscalculation since Neville Chamberlain and his piece of paper, thought he could shut them up by offering them a vote. What he failed to include in his calculations was:
    1. although he was Prime Minister, a majority of the country fucking hated him, even many of the ones who voted for his Party.
    2. People like Boris Johnson. I mean, they wouldn’t trust him with their wife or credit card or anything, but you know, he’s funny, a buffoon, a good laugh. I really do blame Have I Got News For You for helping him buff this reputation.
    3. Al Johnson (never forget that Boris is his middle name – his stage name, used only by the plebs and never to his face by his friends) is despite appearances an extremely intelligent man (he was a King Scholar at Eton) and also a treacherous shit of the first order.
    4. The voters of the UK are, to paraphrase the Waco Kid, simple workers, people of the land, the common clay of Albion. You know – morons.

    Those factors combined produced the shitshow we have now.

    I had a conversation the other day with my stepfather (retired, Leave voter) and his son (a servicer of forklift trucks, Leave voter). The son was debating taking a job on slightly more money. I pointed out a more important factor was which of the two employers, current and prospective, had the most UK-based supply chain. He didn’t know what I meant. I teased out the information that their warehouse receives parts deliveries every day, and carries about a week’s worth of stock if business is slow. I asked where these deliveries come from, and apparently most come across outside the UK. It was depressing watching the dawning realisation that come March, there’s a very good chance those deliveries will stop for a while – long enough to effectively cripple the business… and every business depending on them for the continued operation of their FLTs. It was infuriating to realise that this possibility had simply never crossed either of their minds when they voted. Almost nobody among the Leave voters I’ve talked to understands even simple things about how our economy works, and how dependent it has become on fast, frictionless exchange of goods and services across borders. Most of them just wanted bendy bananas, or to annoy David Cameron, or to get the immigrants out. (The latter expressed to me by a colleague who is third-generation British-Pakistani. You couldn’t make it up.)

  12. KG says

    Mostly old, mostly stupid people (fact, not speculation – voting Leave was heavily proportionaly to older age groups and lower educational attainment). sonofrojblake@10

    Also, mostly Tory or UKIP voters. Considerably majorities in all other significant parties voted Remain. It wasn’t an anti-establishment vote, bluerizlagirl@9, nearly so much as a racist and xenophobic vote. Appeal to those sentiments was the core of the “Leave” campaign.

  13. KG says

    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.

    In the case of both Scotland and Northern Ireland, the UK government would have to agree to the holding of a binding
    referendum. In the case of Northern Ireland, if such a referendum is held the result is binding (although a decision for unification with the Republic would need to be agreed by a separate referendum in the Republic). But the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland – a member of the UK government – has to trigger the process, and is supposed to do so if (s)he thinks a vote for unification with the Republic is likely. At present, it isn’t – while the majority voted to Remain, the Unionist (mainly Protestant) section of that majority almost certainly gives higher priority to staying in the UK. In the case of Scotland, the Scottish government can request such a referendum (it would only do so with the support of a vote in the Scottish parliament), but the UK parliament has to agree to suspend some of its powers over Scotland, under which constitutional matters are “reserved” i.e. not devolved to the Scottish parliament. There is no likelihood the current UK parliament would vote to allow another Scottish independence referendum, and Brexit, with or without a UK/EU deal, won’t in itself change that – Cameron agreed to the first Indyref because polls suggested an easy win for “No”, and the UK establishment got a nasty scare, which really should have taught him a lesson. The most likely circumstances for such an agreement by the UK parliament are if, after the next general election (or a later one), no party is able to form a government without SNP support. But the next Scottish election is due before the next UK one, and may well see the current pro-independence majority in the Scottish parliament (the SNP plus 6 Scottish Green Party MSPs) overturned. If it is not, and the UK parliament continues to refuse a new referendum, the Scottish government could try to hold one anyway, or announce that the election result gave it the right to declare independence (as the Catalonian government did). That seems to me a remote possibility, but then a lot of apparently remote possibilities have come to pass in the past decade.

    I think there’s little doubt (but not no doubt) that an independent Scotland would be readmitted to the EU if it asked – this requires unanimous consent from existing members before negotiations begin, and such consent could become a bargaining chip for a state that wants something else. It was said before the last Indyref that Spain would block Scottish membership because of opposition to Catalonian independence, but that’s highly doubtful provided Scotland gained its independence constitutionally, particularly after the change in Spanish government. It’s also highly likely, but not certain, that it would in fact ask for readmittance. Whether a customs border would be required depends on what agreement, if any, is reached over the Irish border – whatever arrangements work there would presumably also work between Scotland and England; but if there is such a border in Ireland after Brexit, that might dissuade the government of an independent Scotland from trying to rejoin the EU. And as has already been said, there’s currently no likelihood (unfortumately) of an independent Scotland abolishing the monarchy. Elizabeth Windsor, or her successor, would remain monarch of Scotland (the traditional title is King (or Queen) of Scots, rather than of Scotland).

    There’s currently a case before the UK’s Supreme Court, brought be the UK government against a “Continuity Bill” passed by the Scottish parliament to try to protect Scottish interests after Brexit. The UK government claims the Scottish parliament exceeded its powers. Whatever the outcome, the political fallout is likely to be considerable.

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