Brexit: History's Most Stressful Divorce
On June 23, 2016, British citizens were asked a simple question: Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union, or leave? Former Prime Minister David Cameron announced in February 2016 that the U.K. would hold a referendum to decide whether the second most powerful country in the world would be the first one to leave the EU.
Two primary lobbying groups formed in response: “Britain Stronger in Europe” and “Vote Leave.” Polling day had an outstanding voter turnout of thirty million people with “Vote Leave” receiving a winning 51.9% of votes. Not long after, current Prime Minister Theresa May flipped her position from opposing Brexit to agreeing with the referendum’s outcome.
In March 2017, European Council President Donald Tusk began the countdown for the U.K’s formal exit from the EU, leaving Theresa May with a strict two-year timeline to fulfill her 12-Point Plan. Now, the bitter divorce between the U.K. and the EU has resulted in a stalemate in negotiations, specifically regarding future trade relations and the rights of EU citizens currently in the U.K.
In a speech this past September in Florence, May discussed what Britain’s relationship with the bloc would look like and ensured that the British would not leave a hole in the union’s budget in 2019 and 2020. Experts estimate this will require payments of around 20 billion euros or $24 billion once the divorce is finalized.
May also proposed a security partnership with the EU and offered new legal safeguards to guarantee the rights of EU citizens and migrants in post-Brexit Britain. Her statements were highly criticized by former ministers Owen Paterson and David Jones, Senior Tory MP Peter Bone, Tory MEP David Bannerman, and business leader Richard Tice. They argue that May’s plans are not sufficient to address immigration concerns and only delay formal departure.
On Thursday, the fourth round of Brexit talks concluded in Brussels. Although some progress was made on areas such as citizen rights, the issue of open trade talks remains on the back burner. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker stated that it would “take a miracle” for the EU to agree to open trade talks since the U.K. needs to first resolve preliminary issues before the next EU summit in October.
British negotiators led by Brexit Secretary David Davis, in contrast, added that there have been “decisive steps forward” in the talks and progress has been made. However, EU members are cautious, indicating that more work needs to be done. Next month’s Brexit talks will focus on the UK-EU relationship and separation issues once the UK officially exits in March 2019.