The day the UK officially leaves the EU has arrived, so we breakdown what to expect next
After spending the past couple of months recovering from the trauma of the Tories securing a sweeping majority in the last election, you’d be forgiven for tuning out of Westminster’s monotonous Brexit proceedings – if nothing but for the preservation of your own sanity. Not forgetting also, that there’s been a Labour leadership contest underway and the threat of impending climate catastrophe to keep us distracted. In which case, today (January 31) – AKA Brexit Day – might come as something of a rude awakening, as will the news that our departure from the EU is a long, long way from done.
There’ll be little official ceremony to mark the UK leaving the EU today (Friday 31) at 11pm, other than a clock projected onto No. 10 Downing Street and a ‘celebration’ hosted by Nigel Farage in Parliament Square, in what promises to be the most nauseating get-together of the year. There won’t even be a ‘bong’ to mark the occasion – much to the dismay of the tireless Brexiteers and campaigners who failed to raise £500,000 to get Big Ben’s bell working again in time. It looks like they’ll have to make do with the forthcoming ‘Festival of Brexit’ to hear the dulcet, life-giving bonging.
Across the country, there’s a spate of Remainer protesters – Irish campaigners are protesting at the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland and at NI’s parliament building Stormont, as part of Border Communities Against Brexit. Scottish leader Nicola Sturgeon has also said she will fly the EU flag over Scottish government headquarters even after Britain leaves the EU, while other SNP ministers are leading vigils across Scotland today.
So while we brace ourselves for an indefinite future of tiresome Brexit convos about how tiresome Brexit convos are, here’s what you need to know about our official departure from the EU and the hellscape that awaits.
HOW TF DID WE END UP HERE?
After what felt like a never-ending political shitshow, the transition period and other aspects of the UK’s departure from the EU were officially agreed earlier this month in a separate deal called the ‘withdrawal agreement’. The deal Boris Johnson passed through parliament is mostly the same as the one negotiated by Theresa May. The only real difference is the removal of the Irish backstop – the sticking point that prevented May’s deal from progressing.
The backstop was initially in place to ensure that there would be no customs border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland after Brexit. By scrapping the backstop, Johnson effectively shifted the border checks so that they’re now between NI and the rest of the UK. This means some goods entering NI will be subject to checks and have to pay EU import tax.
While Boris’ deal is deeply unpopular among NI’s political leaders, it managed to win the support of the 80-strong Tory majority last December. So we’ve ended up with virtually the same deal Boris himself once said would be a “disaster” for the UK, resurrected from the dead because of the PM’s willingness to throw NI under the bus. Make it make sense.
Dear lord, what a sad little life Boris, You ruined my rights as an EU Citizen living in the UK completely just so you could have the money. I hope now you will spend it on getting some lessons in grace and decorum because you have all the grace of a reversing dump trunk— Nicola Coughlan (@nicolacoughlan) January 31, 2020
WILL ANYTHING CHANGE AFTER TONIGHT (JANUARY 31)?
On the face of it, no, life will carry on as normal. This is while the UK enters into an 11-month transition period to allow time to negotiate a new relationship with the EU. We’ll still abide by EU rules, which means staying in the EU single market, its customs union, and paying into its budget. British citizens can also continue to live, work, study, and retire to the EU during this period, and EU27 nationals will continue to enjoy those reciprocal rights in the UK.
Crucially, however, at 11pm, Britain will cease to be a member of the EU, and no longer take part in the EU law-making process. The PM will no longer attend EU summits, the UK’s 73 MEPs will be sent home, and the union Jack will be dismantled from EU parliament, marking the end of almost half a century of EU membership. And next time you apply for a passport, instead of burgundy, it’ll be blue – a total mood right now.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN NEXT?
Formal talks over the ‘new relationship’ are expected to kick-off after February 25 with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michael Barnier. They’ll cover a huge sweep of policies, including trade, security, foreign affairs, data, fisheries, cultural-educational ties, and much, much more. With only 11-months to negotiate, it’s likely that these conversations will only cover the bare bones, which means by 2020, there’ll still be plenty of unfinished business (see Brexit: not done).
Boris has outlawed extending the UK’s membership of the EU beyond the end of December 2020, which means that if both sides fail to come to an agreement over trade by this time, a new no-deal scenario could still be on the cards. This would mean taxes on UK goods travelling to the EU and other trade barriers.
Once again, the PM has proven himself to be totally reckless in refusing to take no-deal off the table and the threat that would pose to the NHS, jobs, and the environment. Not that we’d expect more from a man who once said voting Tory would give your wife “bigger breasts”.
WHAT ABOUT FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT?
Until negotiations take place, this is largely still up in the air. During the transition period, Britsh citizens will have the right to live and work in other EU countries and vice versa for EU citizens. But when the UK leaves the single-market at the end of the year, things could get more complicated.
The divorce deal does not guarantee British expats full freedom of movement within the union. But, it does guarantee rights for UK citizens already residing in one of the 27 EU countries. So while this might make things more difficult for British nationals wanting to go work in one of the EU countries, UK citizens already living in the EU will be granted freedom of movement.
EU citizens — some of whom have called Britain home for decades — must apply if they want to stay. If they don’t register by June 2021, they will effectively be in the country illegally. Welcome to the hostile environment, with your host, Boris Johnson.
While we’re left fearful about what exactly our future relationship with the EU will look like, we can at least sleep safe in the knowledge that our memes are protected.
AND SOME OTHER GRIM BITS
As of today, three million commemorative 50p coins for Brexit will go into circulation, the first one being gifted to Johnson. Critics have called out its lack of Oxford Comma, and most of us can agree resoundedly that it’s lame. The coins reads ‘Peace, prosperity and friendship with all nations’ – sure, Jan.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan is running an advice and support event for Europeans currently living in the UK at City Hall, where they can receive free guidance on the EU Settlement Scheme from immigration lawyers, as well as emotional support services. As the Facebook event says: “The event is open to anyone who wants to come together in solidarity with our European friends, neighbours and colleagues. No need to book, pop in anytime between 5-8pm. We recommend you arrive before 6pm for the event highlight and guest speaker.”
God speed, comrades.