Long-read. Written by Vanya Doval – A grade 8 student
We’ve heard the word Brexit a fair number of times over the past few months. But, what exactly is Brexit? An anonymous internet user with an avid sense of humour defines it as, “the undefined being negotiated by the unprepared in order to get the unspecified for the uninformed“.
Well, let’s not stay uninformed any longer. Brexit is just a fancy word for “British Exit. The term is used to talk about the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the European Union.
What’s the European Union and what’s the history?
The European Union is a political/economic union of 28 countries that trade with each other and allow citizens to move easily between the countries to live and work. The UK wanted to join the EU (then known as the EEC or the European Economic Community) and attempted to do so in 1963 and 1967 but were vetoed by the President of France, Charles de Gaulle who said that a number of aspects of Britain’s economy, from working practices to agriculture had “made Britain incompatible with Europe” and that Britain harboured a “deep-seated hostility” to any European project. Finally, in 1973 when Charles de Gaulle had relinquished the French presidency, the British were made part of the European Community.
Two years later, in 1975, the ruling Labour party held a referendum on whether the UK should leave the European Community and saw an overwhelming vote in favour of staying. All British counties except 2 voted a ‘Yes’.
So, what happened later?
Over the course of the next 40 years, the views of the English people changed. They wanted another referendum and so, in 2013, Prime Minister David Cameron promised one if he was re-elected for a second term. Soon after he was voted in for a second term the European Union Referendum Act 2015 was introduced in the British parliament to kickstart the referendum that culminated on the 23rd of June 2016. The “Leave” side won by nearly 52% to 48% – 17.4million votes to 16.1 million.
Being a staunch advocate of remaining within the EU, Cameron tendered his resignation soon after the results of the referendum. On 13th July 2016, the then home secretary Theresa May won the Conservative Party leadership contest and became the Prime Minister.
On 29th of March 2017 Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty that states that “Any Member State of the European Union may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.” This formally kickstarted the 2 year countdown to the UK leaving the EU. In the following month, Theresa May held a general election to prove her ‘strong and stable leadership’. However, it resulted in hung parliament and lowered the conservative party’s seats from 330 to 317.
Following this election, “May’s reputation crashed, arguably faster than any other in modern British political times”, according to BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg. This lead to her government being subjected to two no-confidence motions in December 2018 and January 2019 both of which she subsequently barely survived. She carried out Brexit negotiations with the European Union because their date of initial exit 29th March 2019 was soon approaching. She introduced 3 Brexit withdrawal agreements (which laid down the terms of the UK leaving the EU ) all of which were rejected by the House of Commons . Britain faced the prospect of leaving the EU without a deal, which would cause a huge loss to their economy and so they requested an extension. Since the British MPs were not able to decide upon a deal they kept pushing for further extensions. They finally pushed it up to the 31st of October, 2019.
After repeated rejections of her deal prospects, on 24th June 2019 Theresa May announced that she woud be resigning on the 7th of July. The visibly moved leader, added that it had been the, ‘honour of her life’ to serve as the PM.
Boris Johnson, on the 24th of July, entered Downing Street as the new premier after he won the Conservative party leadership with 66% of the vote, comfortably beating his rival Jeremy Hunt. Johnson backed the possibility of no-deal Brexit. He asked the Queen to suspend the parliament in the 5 weeks run up to October 31st in order to reduce the time for other MPs to block no-deal before the deadline. However, his request was denied by the Supreme Court (who called it ‘unlawful’) and other MPs started backing a bill blocking a no-deal Brexit and seeking another extension from the European Union if the government fails to secure a deal. The legislation was passed, ensuring that Mr. Johnson seek an extension if his deal didn’t pass. The PM, who has called the 31 October deadline “do or die” – reacted by saying that he’d “rather be dead in a ditch”, than extend Brexit . Opposition parties collectively refused suggested that Boris Johnson resign, to which he said that he ‘profoundly disagreed’.
On the 19th of October, a day of high drama at the House of Commons, MPs declined to give their backing to a revised withdrawal agreement that Johnson struck with the EU. While MPs voted inside parliament, outside, more than 100,000 people marched to demand a new referendum that could reverse Brexit. “Reject Brexit”, “Put It ToThe People” and “Stop This Madness” read some of the placards at the mass march, where many protesters also waved EU flags.
This invoked the Benn Act under which, Johnson was legally obliged to send the EU a letter requesting a three month extension. Finding a loophole, Mr. Johnson sent the official letter but he didn’t sign it. Along with this letter he sent another personal, explanatory note saying why he doesn’t want a delay. A third cover letter written by Britain’s EU ambassador Tim Barrow made clear that the Brexit delay request letter was only being sent to comply with the law.
On the 22nd, in a dramatic half-hour in Westminster, MPs voted in favour of the Brexit deal but rejected the prime minister’s shotgun timetable to pass the bill that would make it possible. The EU decided to grant the extension till the 31st of January even after French President Emmanuel Macron said that they deserved a shorter extension.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the only way to break Britain’s Brexit impasse is a general election, he asked Parliament to approve a national poll for December 12th but was rejected . He is set to try again. Johnson has vowed that, sooner or later, the UK will leave the EU on the terms of the deal he negotiated. The Chancellor of the Exchequer Sajid Javid has made it clear that Britain will NOT be leaving the EU by the 31st of October. Whatever they do, let’s just hope that they don’t make an EUge mistake