What is Brexit All About?
The political situation that has been created as a result of Brexit has many asking, “what is Brexit all about?” In order to fully understand what Brexit means, you have to look at a little bit of history.
The 2016 Brexit referendum wasn’t the UK’s first vote on Europe. In 1975, there was a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the European Economic Community (EEC). The result of that referendum was a firm “Yes, please, we’d like to stay in,” with 67.2 percent of voters voting in favor.
Let’s take a look at the past to see what Brexit is all about.
Looking at the Brexit decision: The 2016 EU referendum results in more detail
Fast-forward a generation, and the 2016 Brexit referendum turned the previous result on its head, but by a narrower margin. Overall, 51.89 percent voted to leave the EU, while 48.11 percent voted to stay in.
But the UK is made up of four different countries, and, interestingly, the individual countries voted in quite different ways:
- England voted Leave, by 53.38 percent to 46.62 percent.
- Scotland voted Remain, by 62 percent to 38 percent.
- Wales voted Leave, by 52.53 percent to 47.47 percent.
- Northern Ireland voted Remain, by 55.78 percent to 44.22 percent.
Why did people vote to leave in favor of Brexit? It’s difficult to fully understand the consequences of Brexit. For that reason, the answer will vary depending on who you ask. But some of the key reasons Leavers wanted out of the EU included the following:
- Having to make financial contributions to the EU’s annual budget
- Free movement of people and the perception that immigration from Europe was too high
- Wanting the UK to be able to negotiate its own trade deals, instead of negotiating as part of the EU bloc
- Perceived lack of UK “sovereignty” or control, with the UK being bound by EU rules and regulations
Meanwhile, those on the Remain side of Brexit pointed out that, as with any EU member, the UK directly benefited from the EU budget — and from free movement of people and the EU single market, for that matter. Many Remainers also felt that the UK should be integrating closer with Europe, not distancing itself from its closest neighbours and biggest trading partner.
What is Brexit all about? Understanding the UK’s complex relationship with Europe
It’s fair to say that the UK never really bought into the dream of a fully integrated Europe, and it kept Europe at arm’s length whenever possible. When the EEC was formed in 1957, the UK didn’t sign up. And when the UK did apply, in the 1960s, its entry was vetoed by a skeptical France.
The UK eventually joined the club in the 1970s but remained, in its own way, distant from Europe. Over the years, the UK has voted against or opted out of key EU arrangements, such as the euro single currency or the Schengen passport-free travel area.
Throughout the 1990s and later, as Europe moved toward greater integration (political and social integration, as well as economic integration), Euroscepticism really began to grow in the UK.
Nationalist parties like the UK Independence Party (UKIP), whose main mission was to get the UK out of the EU, grew in popularity and tapped into voter concerns around immigration in a very effective way. UKIP finally won a seat in the UK Parliament in 2014. A year later, in the run-up to the UK general election, the Conservative Party manifesto included the promise of an EU referendum. The Conservatives won, and the EU referendum took place a year later.
Why Brexit happened: Looking at the key elements of the Brexit negotiations
The withdrawal negotiations between the UK and the EU seemed to go on forever, but really they’re just the tip of the Brexit iceberg.
That’s because the withdrawal agreement only covers the UK’s departure from the EU. It doesn’t agree on critical elements of the future relationship between the two, such as trade.
The Brexit withdrawal agreement is purely about getting the UK out of the EU in an orderly manner. Trade negotiations — and agreements that cover cooperation in areas like security and defense — will not begin until after the UK has left the EU. This was a big area of misunderstanding for a lot of people, who assumed the “Brexit deal” was essentially a trade deal.
So, what does this orderly exit involve? To ensure the UK’s exit would be as smooth as possible, the two sides negotiated the following key points as part of the withdrawal agreement:
- The divorce bill, or how much the UK has to pay to cover its existing commitments to the EU.
- The transition period (also known as implementation period), which is designed to ensure a controlled transfer, and give governments and businesses time to prepare for life after Brexit.
- The rights of EU citizens already living in the UK (and the rights of UK citizens living in the EU) to retain their residency status after Brexit. Also, that the free movement of people would continue until the end of the transition period. Theresa May had made it clear during negotiations that free movement of people would have to end after the transition period — it was one of her “red lines” that she refused to budge on.
- The fact that the UK will have to abide by EU laws for the duration of the transition period — something that raised a lot of eyebrows among Brexiteers.
- How to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The withdrawal agreement includes a provision for a temporary customs union between the UK and the EU until a trade deal is agreed upon, and this is known as the This backstop measure proved extremely unpopular among Brexiteers (and even many Remainers), even though it was designed to prevent a hard border and protect peace on the island of Ireland.
The UK’s ongoing relationship with the EU in areas such as trade is not part of the withdrawal deal because, at the time Brexit negotiations were taking place, none of that had been negotiated yet. The political declaration sets out a vague aim to agree on a trading relationship that’s as close as possible, but it avoids any specific details.