Brexit, the odd nickname was coined to describe the process of Britain leaving the European Union. We have all heard the term bouncing around online, on television and from voices overheard on our commute to Maynooth. But what is it really? I mean it should be obvious to everyone, Shouldn’t it? There’s not a ‘RTE Six One News’ that doesn’t include the term since 2016 and here we are over two years later still unsure of what it all means. As students it will most likely affect us in some capacity so we should know the basics. Here’s a beginners guide to Brexit.
Leaving the European Union had been a hotly debated topic in the U.K for a number of years. Citizens were concerned about their boarder control and the money they were paying to the E.U every year. It became a promise of the David Cameron led Conservative party during the British general election of 2015. Following the Conservative party wining the majority in the election he fulfilled that promise. On the 23rd of June 2016 Britain voted and a majority favoured leaving the EU.
In order for Britain to leave the EU, newly elected Prime Minister Theresa May had to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which gives the two sides two years to agree the terms of the split. May triggered this process on the 29th of March, 2017, meaning the UK is scheduled to leave at 11pm on Friday, 29 March 2019. It can be extended if all 28 EU members agree, but at the moment all sides are focusing on that date as being the key one, and May has now put it into British law. After the 29th of March there will be a period of transition which would mean that everything continues as normal until the end of 2020. However what happens after this period is the source of the problem.
There are a few different ways in which Britain can leave the EU. The first and most likely the worst possible outcome is leaving the EU without any agreement. This no deal scenario would cause there to be no transition period .Britain would make a sharp break from the EU. In this situation EU laws would immediately be separated from British laws, tariffs and border checks could be enforced straight away. It is hard to predict what exactly the knock on effects of this would be. Many experts believe it could cause an economic crash, food and medical supplies shortages in Britain. The most immediate and potentially chaotic problem for Ireland would be that without a trade deal there would have to be a hard border in Northern Ireland. This would make your journey to Belfast exceptionally difficult and more importantly could cause a spark of violence again in Northern Ireland. This is not ideal for Britain or the EU.
There is also a Hard Brexit; this is wanted by some of the Conservative party. This would see Britain have a clean spilt from EU powers. This would see Britain not only leave the EU but the customs union, the courts of justice and the single market. This would let Britain make trade deals with individual countries. It may benefit some British business because of more tariffs being put on imported products, hence making less competition. However if a British company buys in materials from Europe they would be more expensive. Northern Ireland’s boarder problem is still prevalent in this deal. There is no clear way in which you could avoid a hard border. Complete freedom of movement would also stop in this deal.
A softer Brexit is another option. This would see more alignment between the U.K and the EU. A very soft Brexit would allow Britain to stay in the customs union and single market. However would have the opposite effect on British businesses from a hard Brexit. The business sourcing material from outside Britain would keep competitive whereas the business selling products from within the country wouldn’t benefit from tariffs. They would not be able to make their own trade deals; however moving abroad would remain easier. A soft Brexit would also see less of a demand for a hard border in Northern Ireland as trade rules would mostly remain the same.
The final option is known as the ‘Chequers Deal’. This is the deal that May has come up with to try and walk the middle path between a soft and hard Brexit. This deal would see Britain remain close to the EU. It would include signing up to a common rule book allowing ‘ongoing harmonisation’. This translates into being pretty similar to the common market however the UK wants more freedom allowing it to strike trade deals with other countries. May hopes that they would be able to avoid a hard border as there would be most of the same trade rules as the EU. The government wants to also take control of their immigration policy in this deal. The EU are not keen on this plan as May in essence is trying to cherry pick the best parts of being the EU and also have independence from it.
Time is running out for the UK. It could be said that the light at the end of tunnel is actually the light of an oncoming train. There is another alternative if they run out of time. The British government could ask the British public again. Whatever is decided it will likely affect Ireland. Hence, it’s important to understand the basics.
By Catherine Fee