Shortcuts / 04 September 2019
Brexit (Part 1)
Brexit. It has more twists and turns than a good soapie, but far fewer good looking people. And it’s in the news – a lot. Here’s an overview of Brexit pre-Boris Johnson. We get you across why Britain was ever part of the EU, why they decided to leave, why it’s so hard to leave and the major sticking point – the Northern Ireland backstop.
Why was the UK in the European Union
• The birth of the EU is linked to the end of the World War II. Following the death and destruction of that war across Europe, there was a “desire to tie Europe’s nations so closely together that they could never again wreak such damage on each other.” This was something that Winston Churchill supported.
• But it wasn’t until 1961 that the UK made an application to join the European Economic Community (the forerunner to the EU) – and their application was vetoed by France in 1963 by France. Despite everything they went through in the World Wars, old peacetime grudges die hard…
• Then in 1969 when French President Charles De Gaulle resigned from the EEC, the UK was given the green light, and 1972 that the paperwork was finalised.
• And then – newsflash – there was a referendum about leaving the EEC in 1975. UK citizens voted 67% in favour of remaining.
• So to answer the question ‘why did they join’? The UK found in the post-war period, it was “quickly apparent that there was a danger of political isolation within Western Europe.”
• These days, the European Union is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries.
Why did they decide to leave it?
• The obtuse answer is there was a referendum in June 2016 to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union. Leave won by 51.9% to 48.1%. The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting.
• England voted for Brexit – 53.4% to 46.6%. Wales voted for Brexit – 52.5% to 47.5%. Scotland and Northern Ireland both backed staying in the EU.
• The pitch from the supporters of Brexit said Britain was being held back by the EU. They say there are many rules on business that is stifling its economic growth.
• Immigration was also a big issue for Brexit supporters, they wanted Britain to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming in to live and/or work. Remember this was against a backdrop of thousands of people fleeing to Europe from places like Syria and Northern Africa because of conflicts there. One of the main principles of EU membership is “free movement”, which means you don’t need to get a visa to go and live in another EU country. That was seized on by some Leave campaigners.
• Also Brexiteers point to the cost. The UK is one of 10 member states who pay more into the EU budget than they get out. Only France and Germany contribute more to the EU.
• Meanwhile, those campaigning for Britain to stay in the EU said it got a big boost from its membership. They say it makes selling things to other EU countries easier. Snd, they argue, the flow of immigrants, most of whom are young and keen to work, fuels economic growth and helps pay for public services.
• They also said Britain’s status in the world would be damaged by leaving and that the UK was more secure as part of the 28 nation club, rather than going it alone.
Why is it so hard to leave it?
• To start with, it’s never been done before. No nation state has ever left the EU. There’s no template.
• And then there’s unscrambling the egg. A lot of the UK’s laws are EU laws.
• While in the EU, the UK is part of what’s called a common market. With Brexit, there’s working out how UK exporters trade with EU countries, and vice versa. And the UK has to now set up trade deals with the world, like Australia is attempting to do.
• And there’s a tonne of other questions. What happens to EU citizens living in the UK and UK citizens in the EU? What about health care rights? Access to a welfare safety net? Product safety and standards? The list goes on…
• But it’s what happens at the border between the UK administered Northern Ireland and the EU remaining Republic of Ireland that has been single handedly the biggest issue.
And I hate to ask. But what the heck is the Northern Ireland Backstop?
• When the UK leaves the EU, the 310-mile border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will become the land border between the UK and the European Union.
• Neither side wants to see a return to checkpoints, towers, customs posts or surveillance cameras at the border, in case it reignites the Troubles and disrupts the free cross-border flow of trade and people. But agreeing how to do that has been problematic, to put it mildly.
• Under former PM Theresa May’s leadership, the UK and EU agreed to put in place a “backstop” – a kind of safety net to ensure there is no hard border whatever the outcome of future trade talks between the UK and the EU.
• If needed, the backstop would keep Northern Ireland aligned to some EU rules on things like food products and goods standards. It would also effectively keep all of the UK in the EU customs union.
• And if future trade talks broke down without a deal, the backstop would apply indefinitely and would end only with the agreement of both the UK and the EU. That’s something that PM Boris Johnson and strong Brexiteers can not stomach.
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