Even though it won’t affect me directly, as someone interested in history I thought I’d write about “Brexit,” the United Kingdom’s (UK) withdrawal from the European Union (EU). Brexit is a portmanteau word of “British” and “exit.”
First some background. Maybe a bit boring, but important.
The EU and European citizenship were established with the Maastricht Treaty of 1993. (The EU’s roots can be traced to the European Coal and Steel Community and European Economic Community.) Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and (then) West Germany were the EU’s first members. In time the union consisted of 27 member states. The European Community features an internal single market and a standardized system of laws.
EU policies aim to ensure free movement of people, goods, services and capital among its members, to enact legislation in home affairs and justice matters, and to maintain common policies on trade, agriculture, fisheries and regional development. Also, passport controls have been abolished, making the EU essentially “borderless.” It isn’t unreasonable to assert that, after experiencing two sanguinary, ruinous wars in less than a half century, Western European leaders hoped that a relationship that bound their countries together closely would ensure their mutual security.
Human organizations tend to promulgate rules and laws. The European Union, from its Brussels headquarters, wasn’t immune to this. Not everyone agreed with the ability that EU legislation gave to reach into their economies and societies; the United Kingdom, which historically has considered itself an entity apart from the Continent, seemed particularly sensitive on this topic.
In a June 2016 United Kingdom-wide referendum, 52 per cent of the electorate voted to leave the European Union. Prime Minister Theresa May then started the process of withdrawing from the EU, via Article 50 in March 2017. The article resulted in the British government’s formal withdrawal of the country from the European Union. In April the prime minister announced a snap general election, which she believed would strengthen her hand in Brexit negotiations and reinforce support for her leadership style.
Theresa May miscalculated in a big way. Her Conservative Party lost its majority in Parliament. The prime minister survived votes of no confidence in December 2018 and January 2019, even as she negotiated a Brexit withdrawal agreement with the EU. That March Parliament voted for the prime minister to delay Brexit until first April, then October. Unsuccessful at getting her agreement approved, May resigned in July and was succeeded by former London mayor Boris Johnson.
In spite of the domestic political theater the Brexit train gathered steam. Johnson tried to replace parts of the agreement, vowing to leave the EU by October 31. On October 19 the British government and the European Union finally settled on a revised withdrawal agreement, but while Parliament rejected passing it into law before the deadline a third Brexit delay was requested.
An early general election held on December 12 resulted in a large Conservative majority. The endgame unfolded rapidly: Prime Minister declared that the UK would depart the EU in early 2020. The withdrawal agreement was ratified by the United Kingdom on January 23, and by the EU on January 30. It came into effect the following day, at 11 PM GMT. Then began a transition period that’s set to end on December 31, 2020.
Brexit may have passed but at this point even the broad outlines of its implementation remain vague. Part 2 of this posting will be devoted to how Brexit played out in a hobby of mine . . . coin collecting. Stay tuned!