Hundreds of pro-Brexit demonstrators gathered at London’s Parliament Square on Friday after lawmakers rejected the government’s divorce agreement with the European Union for a third time. (March 29)
British Prime Minister Theresa May and the opposition Labour Party are holding meetings this week to try to “break the logjam” over Britain’s European Union exit – or Brexit. On Friday, May requested a delay to Brexit until June 30 so there’s more time to get a divorce deal through Parliament. Here’s a recap on Britain leaving the EU.
Brexit: Why is it called that?
It may sound like a breakfast cereal, but the word “Brexit” is a combination of the words “British” and “exit.” It was first coined by The Economist magazine in 2012 and emerged after Greece’s potential departure from the EU as it struggled with a heavy government debt load. “Grexit” never happened, but it inspired the British abbreviation.
What is the EU?
It’s a trade and monetary club, essentially, that enables its member nations to send goods, services and people across the bloc’s collective borders with minimal friction. The EU was founded in 1948 in the aftermath of World War II to promote stability and economic cooperation among countries that had fought two major wars. The EU includes 28 countries – 19 of which use the euro currency – and it has more than 500 million citizens who are entitled to live and work in any other EU country.
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May’s offer: Theresa May’s EU Brexit deal rejected by Parliament a third time
Why is Brexit happening?
British Prime Minister David Cameron called a public vote in 2016 on EU membership to appease right-wing, Euro-skeptic members of his ruling Conservative Party who had long agitated to leave the EU. They viewed the EU as a threat to Britain’s sovereignty. Cameron expected the national referendum would easily reconfirm Britain’s EU membership. He miscalculated. “Leave” won 52% to 48% over “Remain.”
Why is it taking so long?
There is no easy answer to this one. However, it can be boiled down to the fact that although Britain’s electorate narrowly opted to discard decades of EU membership – it joined in 1973, when the EU was known as the European Economic Community, or EEC – the majority of British lawmakers don’t believe it’s in the best interests of the country. The delay is also a result of Britain and the EU not being equal negotiating partners. The EU has the final say on all Brexit matters. May spent almost three years negotiating an exit arrangement that was acceptable to the EU’s 27 other leaders. Many lawmakers don’t like it but have been unable to agree on what kind of deal they want instead.
Brexit was originally scheduled for March 29.
Parliament has rejected May’s deal three times.
What’s so bad about May’s deal?
Critical issues accompanying the country’s EU divorce, such as how much Britain will need to pay to leave the bloc (about $50 billion) and what rights EU nationals in Britain will have after the separation (similar to what they have now, but they’ll need to prove they are not a burden on the state) have been less controversial with British lawmakers. The deal has fallen afoul of parliamentarians over the thorny question of the land border between Northern Ireland (part of Britain) and Ireland (part of the EU).
Years of EU-facilitated trade and travel across this border underpin the Good Friday Agreement, the 1998 peace deal between the British and Irish governments and political parties in Northern Ireland.
The EU and May signed off on a temporary measure, known as the “backstop,” to keep the border open while Britain and the bloc negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal. Lawmakers are concerned that the “backstop” runs the risk of becoming permanent, keeping Britain tethered to the EU.
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What happens if there’s a ‘no-deal’ Brexit?
Britain leaves the EU anyway because that is the default legal position. The EU has given Britain until April 12 to come up with a plan that is acceptable to lawmakers. If an agreement is not made by that date, Britain will leave the EU, only there could be considerable chaos because years of EU legislation covering everything from Britain’s transportation policies to public health will more or less vanish overnight.
About 3.7 million non-British EU nationals, or 6% of the population, live in Britain and 1.2 million people born in Britain live in the 27 other EU countries. In the event of a “no-deal” Brexit, these nationals would have no formal legal status or working and residence rights. Business leaders warned a “no-deal” Brexit would badly hurt commerce. There are concerns about shortages of food and medical supplies.
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In recent days, lawmakers have voted on a range of Brexit alternatives in an attempt to find a compromise solution. These have included a “softer” form of Brexit that would allow Britain to keep closer trading ties to the EU and revoking Brexit altogether.
All the options were voted down.
May, from the ruling Conservative Party, said Tuesday that the country needed “national unity to deliver the national interest” and offered to hold talks with opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn in an attempt to find a compromise solution.
“This debate, this division, cannot drag on much longer,” May said in a statement from 10 Downing St., her official residence. The EU scheduled an emergency summit in Brussels for April 10, two days before Britain’s new Brexit deadline.
Before that, May could call a fourth vote on her EU exit deal.
Lawmakers are also considering adopting legislation that would force May to seek a further delay from the EU aimed at preventing a “no-deal” Brexit on April 12.
Ahead of next week’s summit with EU leaders in Brussels, May has asked the EU to consider delaying Brexit until June 30. The request needs unanimous approval.
More: Theresa May’s EU Brexit deal rejected by Parliament a third time
Wait, didn’t May resign?
After May’s EU exit deal was rejected the second time, she vowed to quit if lawmakers would approve it in the third vote. They didn’t. She’s still Britain’s prime minister.
Unlike in the USA, Britain does not elect a leader but a party. If May steps down, her Conservative Party would still be in power as long as it could agree on who should replace her. If it can’t, there would be an election.
More: Britain’s Theresa May offers to step down to get Brexit deal passed
May is Britain’s second female prime minister after Margaret Thatcher (1979-90) and served in Cameron’s Cabinet as home secretary. In that role, she took a strict line on drug policy, immigration and fighting terrorism.
When does Brexit end?
Although the term “Brexit” is a noun, it has morphed into something of a verb that is nothing if not a seemingly never-ending exercise in a political process.
Even if May’s deal passes in a fourth vote, the Brexit process wouldn’t be over.
The deal she is trying to get through Parliament is a transition-period arrangement. Her successor would need to negotiate – depending on how “soft” or “hard” a Brexit deal emerges – post-EU trade deals and other aspects of British legislation pertaining to life outside the bloc from environmental protections to human rights.
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