Brexit
December 30, 2020

After more than four years of intense debate, the final step in the long, winding Brexit saga went smoothly for the United Kingdom's Parliament, which overwhelmingly backed a recently agreed-upon trade deal with the European Union. The approval, which was mostly a formality by this point, frees up the country to exit the bloc in a much more orderly fashion on Jan. 1 than if no deal had been reached.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson signed the deal after the 521 to 73 vote.

Johnson did have support from most opposition Labour MPs, though a few broke with party leadership and voted against the deal, joining members from the Scottish Nationalist, Liberal Democrat, and Democratic Unionist parties, reports the Financial Times.

The deal also got a unanimous stamp of approval from the 27 EU member states, and while it still requires a vote from the EU parliament, the bloc's laws allow it to take effect provisionally. Read more at the Financial Times. Tim O'Donnell

December 26, 2020

The United Kingdom and the European Commission published the full text of their trade agreement Saturday morning after the sides came to terms ahead of the Dec. 31 Brexit deadline earlier this week. The deal includes a 1,246-page trade document, as well as accords on nuclear energy, classified information exchanges, and several joint declarations.

Writing in The Times on Saturday, Michael Gove, a senior British minister and a prominent voice in the U.K.'s "leave" campaign in the lead up to the 2016 referendum, said he hopes the pact will mean leaving behind some of the divisions between London and Brussels, and within the U.K. itself, that cropped up over the last several years. "Friendships have been strained, families were divided, and our politics has been rancorous and, at times, ugly," he wrote. "Through the past four years, as a politician at the center of this debate, I've made more than my fair share of mistakes or misjudgments, seen old friendships crumble, and those closest to me have to endure pressures they never anticipated."

But with a deal in tow, he wrote, "we can develop a new pattern of friendly cooperation with the EU, a special relationship if you will, between sovereign equals." Read more at BBC and Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

December 5, 2020

There may yet be a Brexit deal, though negotiations are seemingly far from over.

After speaking over the phone Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen have agreed to instruct their negotiators to renew Brexit talks in Brussels on Sunday, signaling that hope for a deal remains.

The U.K. has already left the bloc, but the transition period — during which governing rules have remained unchanged — ends Dec. 31, and both sides are hoping to strike some sort of agreement and avoid a chaotic breakup. However, major sticking points remain over fisheries, fair competition guarantees, and ways to solve future disputes. The two leaders acknowledged the differences are serious, but agreed a "further effort should be undertaken" to resolve the outstanding issues since no pact would be feasible unless a consensus is reached.

Johnson and Von der Leyen said they will speak again Monday night. Read more at Reuters. Tim O'Donnell

July 21, 2020

After days of negotiations, European Union leaders on Tuesday agreed to a "historic" $2.1 trillion deal, which includes $857.33 billion in recovery funds to help member states climb out of the economic recession brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Does the bloc have Brexit to thank for getting it done?

In his positive analysis of the deal Erik Fossing Nielsen, the chief economist at UniCredit, described the pact as perhaps the "first clear sign" of the United Kingdom's controversial departure actually benefiting the EU. Nielsen theorizes that if London was at the table, a deal "of this magnitude" would have been unlikely. That's because, as he sees it, the U.K. "would have demanded a myriad of opt-outs" that the so-called frugal four — the Netherlands, Sweden, Austria, and Denmark (and in this case Finland) — may have gone along with.

In actuality, those states were able to win some concessions without torpedoing the deal completely. Ultimately, Nielsen says the agreement represented "a great deal of solidarity among the bloc," though he noted France and Germany came away as big political winners, since they mostly got their way. He also deemed the U.K. a loser despite its absence, predicting that EU policies will continue to affect the country, which will in turn lack any sort of influence. Read the full analysis here. Tim O'Donnell

January 31, 2020

Three and a half years after narrowly voting to leave the European Union, the United Kingdom is celebrating and mourning its final day of EU membership Friday before leaving the union at 11 p.m., or midnight in Brussels. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will address the nation at 10 p.m. to inaugurate what he will call "a moment of real national renewal and change." Britain and the EU have agreed that the U.K. will retain all EU rules for 11 months while the two sides try to hammer out a new trade relationship and other guidelines for their new relationship.

But Britain remains sharply divided on Brexit, with larger cities, Northern Ireland, and especially Scotland still in favor of remaining in the EU. In Edinburgh, where the EU flag will remain raised outside the Scottish Parliament on Friday night and the EU colors blue and yellow will light up two government buildings, Scottish Brexit Secretary Mike Russell urged the EU to "leave a light on for Scotland" so it could return, presumably as an independent country.

EU officials were generally cordial about the divorce, as in this tweet from former European Council president Donald Tusk of Poland.

Current European Council {resident Charles Michel called Brexit Day "an exceptional day for the European Union and today probably we have mixed feelings." He added that "it's never a happy moment when someone leaves but we are opening a new chapter. And we will devote all our energy to building a stronger and more ambitious European Union." How close a relationship the EU has with the U.K. will depend on Britain, he said.

Brexit supporters including Nigel Farage are gathering in London's Parliament Square for a celebratory festival of patriotic songs and speeches.

Embed from Getty Images

Britain joined the European bloc in 1973. Peter Weber

January 29, 2020

And with that, Nigel Farage is on his way out of Brussels.

Farage, a British Member of the European Parliament and leader of the U.K.'s Brexit Party, at long last got to say good bye to the European Union after MEPs ratified U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson's withdrawal agreement Wednesday, setting up the country's departure from the governing body at the end of the week. And, boy, did he enjoy it.

Farage and his bellow Brexit Party members stood up and proudly waved the Union Jack as a farewell before getting cut off for breaking parliamentary rules, and he didn't seem to mind one bit. His allies then began a "hip-hip-hooray" chant.

It certainly wasn't a happy day for everyone, though. Some British MEPs expressed their dismay over Brexit, while others said they were determined to one day bring the U.K. back into the fold. MEP Martin Horwood, a Liberal Democrat, received a standing ovation after declaring "We will be back." Tim O'Donnell

October 17, 2019

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said Brexit will go through on Oct. 31 with or without a deal, but European Union leaders aren't on the same page.

A new agreement was cobbled together on Thursday that would allow Britain to leave the EU, but only after a transition period lasting until the end of 2020. Over the next year, EU and British negotiators would work on a trade deal and other arrangements. "This is a great deal for our country — the U.K. — and our friends in the EU," Johnson said Thursday night. "Now is the moment for our parliamentarians to get this done."

The House of Commons will meet for a vote on Saturday, and already, the revised agreement has been rejected by the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party and dragged by Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, who said it's an "even worse deal" than the one crafted by former Prime Minister Theresa May.

Under U.K. law, Johnson is required to seek a Brexit extension if a deal is not approved by Saturday, but he has been adamant about leaving the EU by the Oct. 31 deadline, deal or not. One EU diplomat told The Guardian they are leaving "the door open to the possibility of an extension," if needed. European Council President Donald Tusk said the "ball is in the court of the U.K. I have no idea what will be the result of the debate in the House of Commons on Saturday." Catherine Garcia

October 17, 2019

British and European Union negotiators reached a preliminary agreement Thursday on Britain's withdrawal from the EU. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker tweeted: "We have one! It's a fair and balanced agreement for the EU and the U.K." British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called it a "great new deal" and urged Parliament to ratify it in a special session on Saturday. The other 27 EU nations, whose leaders are meeting for a summit later Thursday, also have to approve the new Brexit deal.

Juncker said he will recommend the other EU nations back the agreement, but Johnson already saw his narrow passageway to Parliament's approval shrink further when his Conservative Party's Northern Ireland partners, the Democratic Unionist Party, said they "could not support what is being suggested on customs and consent issues" for the border between Ireland, an EU member, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K. The DUP affirmed their opposition after the deal was announced.

Johnson's deal replaces the "backstop" agreement for the Irish border that was negotiated by his predecessor, Theresa May, but officials from Northern Ireland don't like that the new plan treats Northern Ireland differently than the other parts of the U.K. Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, said Thursday that the new deal won't result in a hard border, adding: "We are fully committed to protect peace, to protect stability on the island of Ireland."

Britain's main opposition parties, Labour and Liberal Democrats, both quickly rejected the deal. Liberal Democrats leader Jo Swinson called Johnson's deal "bad for our economy, bad for our public services and bad for our environment." Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Johnson's Brexit deal is "even worse" than May's, adding "This sell-out deal won't bring the country together and should be rejected." Without the DUP and its 10 votes, "Boris Johnson will not get the numbers to get a deal," said BBC deputy political editor Norman Smith. "That is just an arithmetical fact." Peter Weber

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