Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU

As the UK has officially triggered Article 50 which notifies the European Union that it is leaving, here’s a guide to help you understand ‘Brexit.’

What does Brexit mean?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock the past year you will have heard the word Brexit which has become used as a shorthand way of saying the UK leaving the EU – merging the words Britain and exit to get Brexit.

Why is Britain leaving the European Union?

A referendum (a vote) was held on Thursday 23rd June, 2016 to decide whether the UK should remain or leave the European Union. Nearly all UK citizens, of voting age, could take part. However the referendum turnout was only 71.8%, over 30 million voters.

Leave voters won by 51.9% to 48.1%.

What was the breakdown across the UK?

LocationLeaveRemainResult
England53.4%46.6%Leave
Scotland38%62%Remain
Wales52.5%47.5%Leave
Northern Ireland44.2%55.8%Remain

 

What changed in government after the referendum?

On the day of the referendum result, Prime Minister David Cameron announced he was resigning after campaigning for a Remain result. Theresa May, who also played a low-key role in the Remain campaign became PM on the 13th July.

What is the European Union?

The European Union is a partnership involving 28 European countries. It began after World War II for the desire of peace between France and Germany to ensure their two countries would never go to war against each other again. The result was a deal signed by six nations to pool their coal and steel resources in 1950. Britain joined in the first wave of expansion in 1973.

What does it all cost?

Every year, each country in the European Union contributes and also receives money back to support development and other projects. In 2015 the EU received £145bn euros in contributions.

CountryContribution %
Germany21.36%
Frances15.72%
UK12.57%
Italy11.48%
Spain8.06%
Netherlands5.77%
Belgium4.05%
Sweden3.07%
Poland3.02%
Austria2.17%
Denmark2.01%
Finland1.42%
Ireland1.28%
Greece1.26%
Portugal1.25%
Czech Republic1.13%
Romania1.08%
11 other countries3.29%

 

What is Article 50?

Article 50 is a plan for any country that wishes to exit the EU. An agreement signed by all EU countries which became law in 2009. It’s a short, 5 paragraphs that spell out that any EU country may decide to leave the EU and must notify the European Council and negotiate its withdrawal with the EU. There are two years to reach an agreement – unless all countries agree to extend this, while the exciting country cannot take part in EU internal discussions about its departure.

What date will the UK leave the EU?

Article 50 was triggered on the 29th March meaning the UK is scheduled to leave on Friday, 29 March 2019. Giving each side two years to agree the terms of the split.

What is the Great Repeal Bill?

The Great Repeal Bill will repeal the 1972 European Communities Act, which took Britain into the EU and meant that European law took precedence over laws passed in the British parliament. All existing EU legislation will be copied across into UK law to ensure a smooth transition on the day after Brexit. The UK Parliament can then “amend, repeal and improve” the laws as necessary. Essentially leaving Britain to make its own laws.

What do ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ Brexit mean?

A hard Brexit arrangement would likely see the UK give up full access to the single market and full access of the customs union along with the EU. The arrangement would prioritise giving Britain full control over its boarders, making new trade deals and applying laws within its own territory. This initially means the UK would likely fall back on World Trade Organisation, rules for trade with its EU partners.

A soft Brexit would leave the UK’s relationship as close as possible to the existing arrangements. The UK would no longer be a member of the EU but would keep access to the European single market.

What happens if there is no deal with the EU?

Theresa May has said leaving the EU with no deal would be better than signing up to a bad one. Without an agreement on trade, the UK would have to operate under World Trade Organisation rules, which could mean customs checks and tariffs.

There are questions regarding Britain’s position as global financial centre, without access to the single market, and the land border between the UK and Ireland. There is also concerns that Brits living abroad in the EU could lose residency rights and access to free emergency health care.

Will I need a visa to travel to the EU?

While there could be limitations on British nationals’ ability to live and work in EU countries, it seems unlikely they would want to deter tourists. There are many countries outside the European Economic Area, which includes the 28 EU nations plus Iceland, Lichtenstein and Norway that British citizens can visit for up to 90 days without needing a visa and it is possible that such arrangements could be negotiated with European countries.

Will I still be able to use my passport?

Yes. It is a British document – there is no such thing as an EU passport, so your passport will stay the same. However in theory, if the government wanted to, they could change the colour of passports which is currently standardised for EU countries.

What were their reasons for wanting the UK to leave?

Some felt that Britain was being held back by the EU, which it was said imposed too many rules on business and charged billions of pounds a year in membership fees for little in return. Sovereignty and democracy were also cited, and Britain wanted to take back full control of its borders and reduce the number of people coming here to live and/or work.

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. The Leave campaign also objected to the idea of “ever closer union” between EU member states and what they see as moves towards the creation of a “United States of Europe”.

Who wanted the UK to stay in the EU?

Then Prime Minister David Cameron was the leading voice in the Remain campaign, after reaching an agreement with other European Union leaders that would have changed the terms of Britain’s membership had the country voted to stay in.

He said the deal would give Britain “special” status and help sort out some of the things British people said they didn’t like about the EU, like high levels of immigration – but critics said the deal would make little difference.

Sixteen members of Mr Cameron’s Cabinet, including the woman who would replace him as PM, Theresa May, also backed staying in. The Conservative Party was split on the issue and officially remained neutral in the campaign. The Labour Party, Scottish National Party, Plaid Cymru, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats were all in favour of staying in.

US president Barack Obama also wanted Britain to remain in the EU, as did other EU nations such as France and Germany.

Will immigration be cut?

Prime Minister Theresa May has said one of the main messages she has taken from the Leave vote is that the British people want to see a reduction in immigration. She has said this will be a focus of Brexit negotiations as she remains committed to getting net migration – the difference between the numbers entering and leaving the country – down to a “sustainable” level, which she defines as being below 100,000 a year.

In the year to September net migration was 273,000 a year, of which 165,000 were EU citizens, and 164,000 were from outside the EU – the figures include a 56,000 outflow of UK citizens. That net migration figure is 49,000 lower than the year before.

Could there be a second referendum?

It seems highly unlikely. Both the Conservatives and the Labour Party have ruled out another referendum, arguing that it would be an undemocratic breach of trust with the British people who clearly voted to Leave. The Liberal Democrats – who have just a handful of MPs – have vowed to halt Brexit and keep Britain in the EU if they were to win the next general election.

Some commentators, including former House of Commons clerk Lord Lisvane, have argued that a further referendum would be needed to ratify whatever deal the UK hammers out with the EU, but there are few signs political leaders view this as a viable option.

Hopefully this guide helps provide you with more information about Brexit and what the next couple of years will bring.

A hard Brexit arrangement would likely see the UK give up full access to the single market and full access of the customs union along with the EU. The arrangement would prioritise giving Britain full control over its boarders, making new trade deals and applying laws within its own territory. This initially means the UK would likely fall back on World Trade Organisation, rules for trade with its EU partners.

A soft Brexit would leave the UK’s relationship as close as possible to the existing arrangements. The UK would no longer be a member of the EU but would keep access to the European single market. 

Last but not least – Will the UK be barred from the Eurovision Song Contest?

Confirmation from Alasdair Rendall, president of the UK Eurovision fan club has said all participating countries must be a member of the European Broadcasting Union. The EBU – which is totally independent of the EU – which includes countries both inside and outside of the EU, and also includes countries such as Israel that are outside of Europe. The UK started participating in the Eurovision Song Contest in 1957 long before joining the EU so will more than likely continue when we leave.

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