Brexit For Dummies: A Simple Explanation of Current British Politics

Living with two Canadian students for the last five months, I’ve found that most young Torontonians are not really engaged in British politics and are not up-to-date on the latest Brexit news, and who could blame them?

Considering the UK is currently in one of its most tumultuous political periods in history and the date for Brexit is now set in stone, March 29, I have taken it upon myself to list some of the biggest Brexit milestones from the last two years. I’ll fill you in on where we are right now and also try to predict what might be coming for us in the next few months.

So, stick with me and we’ll start way back when on June 23, 2016.

The day Britain decided to leave the European Union.

GO VOTE

On June 21, 2016 I turned 18, meaning I could now legally drink, smoke and most importantly, I could finally vote.

On June 23, like most of my peers, I voted for the first time. I didn’t quite realize at the time that this vote was one of, if not the biggest, in modern British history.

(ChiralJon/WIKIMEDIA)

On June 24, we woke up to the news that Britain had voted to leave the European Union in a historic referendum. We also woke to the news that no one had a clue what to do as everyone, including our own government, had assumed we would remain.

For those unfamiliar, in the UK, the governing Party are the Conservatives (Tories), led by Prime Minister Theresa May. They are a right-wing Party, who have been in power in the UK since 2010 when David Cameron became Prime Minister. The opposition are the Labour Party, led by Jeremy Corbyn. They are a left-wing Party, who were last in power 2007-2010.

Just days after the result, Prime Minister David Cameron resigned. After a short leadership contest, Theresa May became the leader of the Conservative Party and therefore, the new Prime Minister.

In hindsight, this will probably be viewed as one of the greatest ironies in British political history that the vote Cameron called to silent anti-EU voices in his party, was the vote that ultimately led to the end of his political career.

The triggering of Article 50 meant negotiations between the EU and UK could now begin.

Article 50: On March 29., 2017, almost one year following the vote, Theresa May triggered Article 50. For any nation that decides to leave the European Union, Article 50 is the document that once signed and delivered to the head of the European Council, Donald Tusk, triggers a two-year countdown to leaving the EU and its institutions.

ANOTHER VOTE

As negotiations were well underway, it was brought into question whether the PM could fairly represent the UK going forward in Brexit negotiations, having not been democratically elected. As a result, Theresa May cemented her position as Prime Minister by calling a snap-election on June 8th, 2017.

Snap-Election: When a Prime Minister calls an election outside of their five-year term or where one is not required.

May predicted she would win by a majority landslide, securing her mandate in the Brexit negotiations and overall as Prime Minister.

The landslide did not occur in part due to a media campaign led by the Labour Party and its leader, Jeremy Corbyn, targeting young people in Britain, which successfully motivated the young sector of the electorate.

(ilovetheeu/WIKIMEDIA) 

Despite May winning the election, Corbyn’s social media campaign had a clear correlation with new voter registrations. This will most likely be regarded as one of the most successful media campaigns by a UK party leader, regardless of the outcome.

Negotiations resumed and Theresa May had to continue developing her Brexit deal without a majority in the House of Commons. This brings us to where we are currently.

At the tail-end of last year, Theresa May put forward her Brexit plan to the House of Commons and then spent the Christmas period trying to convince MPs to vote for her deal.

A key part of the deal is the “backstop” to ensure the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains open after Brexit.

Ireland: The “backstop” guarantees that there won’t be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Due to its conflict history and the fact that if Theresa May went ahead with this, she would be separating Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK, Brexit cannot go ahead until this is resolved. Forbes have covered this issue well and you can check that out here.

Despite May’s efforts, MPs voted down her Brexit deal in the largest defeat for a sitting government in history. Consequently, she had to try and re-negotiate with Ireland for an agreement on the Irish border and had to start listening to other political parties to discuss changing the deal.

Parliament had a voting session two weeks ago during which MPs had the opportunity to put forward amendments to change the outcome of Brexit. Seven amendments were put forward and only two passed.

Firstly an amendment that means Britain cannot leave the EU without a deal and the second, that alternative arrangements should be worked out for the Northern Ireland “backstop.” However, these amendments are not legally binding but MPs backing them does put pressure on Theresa May.

After the amendments were voted on, the EU immediately released a statement that they would not be reopening negotiations.

WHAT NOW?

That brings us up-to-date on where the UK currently stands. There are several possible outcomes at present:

No Deal Brexit – Theresa May has said several times that no deal is an option. If Britain leaves the EU with no set political deal in place, the future of our economy, standing in the world and government hangs in the balance.

People’s Vote – There have been whispers of a People’s Vote all through British media. This would entail Theresa May putting forward options to the public in another vote and the people deciding which deal or type of Brexit they prefer. Theresa May is against this.

Resolve “backstop” – If Theresa May can resolve the Northern Ireland “backstop” issue, it is likely that another vote on her deal would pass. Therefore, May’s Brexit plan would go ahead.

There is also the possibility that Brexit will not go ahead. Unlikely as this is, the European Court of Justice ruled in December that the UK could revoke its decision to leave and remain on the same terms.

The UK is currently in one of its most turbulent political periods and with the country still divided between Leavers and Remainers and with the Brexit date edging over the hill, there does not seem to be any resolution in sight. But if one thing is for sure, the next moves made by Theresa May over these final months are going to change the future of the United Kingdom and the European Union indefinitely.