Brexit: Uncertainty as a ‘Dis-United’ Kingdom Exits Europe Tonight

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SWITZERLAND, JANUARY 31 – After three-and-a-half years, three prime ministers and seemingly endless votes in Parliament since the 2016 Brexit referendum, the United Kingdom leaves the European Union an hour before midnight on Friday, casting off into an uncertain Brexit future that also challenges Europe’s post-World War Two project of forging unity from the ruins of conflict.

After the twists and turns of the Brexit crisis, the country’s most significant geopolitical move since the loss of empire could be an anticlimax of sorts: a transition period preserves membership in all but name until the end of 2020.

The United Kingdom will enter the transition period that was agreed between the British government and the EU. And the terms of that agreement mean that for the next 11 months, the UK remains an EU member state in all but name.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has given little clue to what the future holds, promising only to restore confidence for people and businesses.

“We’ll be out of the EU, free to chart our own course as a sovereign nation,” said Johnson, the New York-born face of the campaign to leave the EU.

But the June 2016 Brexit referendum showed a nation divided about more than Europe and triggered soul-searching about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and modern Britishness.

Strains exacerbated by Brexit could even lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom: England and Wales voted to leave the bloc but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.

The EU, meanwhile, must bid farewell to 15% of its economy, its biggest military spender and the City of London, the world’s international financial capital.

Some will celebrate Brexit, some will weep — but many Britons will do neither.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged the country not to “turn inwards” and instead “build a truly internationalist, diverse and outward-looking Britain”.

The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We must be united in a common vision for our country, however great our differences on achieving it – a common hope for what we want to happen, and what we want to do in the years to come.”

And Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage said: “At last the day comes when we break free. A massive victory for the people against the establishment.”

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, told the BBC his thoughts were with “the millions of British citizens who are sad, as we are sad”.

“We will remain friends, allies and partners,” he added. “We have to rebuild. I think we are stronger together.”

Mr Barnier said he had been seeking to understand Brexit, and that he believed it showed the EU needed to listen to the people of Europe more closely.

What Happens After

As the UK formally leaves the EU tonight, Prime Minister Boris Johnson will address the nation in what can be presumed to be an optimistic message. Other Brexiteers will be celebrating in grander style, as parties are being held across the country — including one opposite the Houses of Parliament, the body that thwarted Brexit so many times in 2019.Remain voters will be holding similar protest events all over Britain.The mood in Brussels will be somber.

The Union flag will be removed from all EU institutions (one of which will be placed in a museum in Brussels) and senior EU politicians will probably make statements expressing that this is a sad day for Europe and that they want to remain the closest of friends with Europe.

However, as written by CNN, while alot will change in theory, very little will change in practice. The UK might be leaving the EU, but as of 11:01 p.m., it will continue to obey all EU law and European courts. In the coming months, it will continue to pay into the EU budget and comply with any changes to EU law. That means that the only things that will change are largely symbolic. The UK will cease to have any meaningful representation in EU institutions and will no longer attend any meetings of EU leaders. So it will be obeying EU rules while having no say in EU policy.

The end of phase one marks the start of phase two. And if the past three and a half years have been anything to go by, phase two is going to be far more of a nightmare than phase one.The Brexit transition period is due to end on December 31 of this year. T

hat means the UK has to negotiate its future relationship with Europe in just 11 months. Failure to reach an agreement would mean the hardest Brexit possible, causing economic damage for both sides and possibly the wider world. This is a scenario that both sides are eager to avoid — even as they continue to engage in their game of high-stakes brinkmanship.

Formal negotiations will begin on March 3. In the meantime, both sides will outline their priorities and draw their red lines. If history tells us anything, the UK will be more likely to back down than Brussels.

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