When the pandemic hit, Brexit was all but forgotten. Yet it hasn’t gone away. Great Britain officially ceased to be a Member State of the European Union on 31 January, 2020, though the transition period means little has changed (yet). Despite years of negotiations, the future trade relationship still remains unclear. The possibility remains of a “no deal” Brexit without a trade agreement when the transition period ends in 2021.
During the transition, the UK has continued to have full access to the EU internal market, its citizens can live and work in the EU and EU citizens have continued to live and work in the UK. At the same time, Britain is no longer at the negotiating table when it comes to new European rules; during the transition period, the British have had to adopt all EU regulations without having a say in their crafting. The UK government could have requested an extension as long as it did so before July 2020, but the deadline passed and no extension was requested. What happens next?
What do our readers think? We had a comment from Paul X asking “How can anyone be happy with how Brexit has gone?”
To get a response, we put Paul X’s comment to former British MEP Jackie Jones, who was elected to the European Parliament in 2019, only to lose her seat when the UK ceased to be an EU Member State in 2020. What would she say?
I’m certainly very unhappy with the outcome of the referendum (based on unlawful activities, which was only ever supposed to be indicative). I’m unhappy with the way the UK government has handled all of it. Those who are happy, in my view, are those who have gained financially. There are not many of them, but unfortunately, some are in power.
Brexit is a UK story, not a European story. But it does serve as a warning to the rest of Europe. We have to really listen and understand the issues our citizens face and worry about. We can solve issues together, without demonizing parts of a population. More equal societies which spread the wealth across the country are in better shape than we were/are. We have a huge concentration of wealth in London and surrounding areas. Wales is one of the poorest areas in the EU. It was left behind by successive governments. You can’t do that.
For another perspective, we asked the European historian Helene von Bismarck what she thought. How would she explain the course that Brexit has taken?
Well, I agree with Paul. I don’t think anybody can be happy with the way Brexit has gone. It’s really astonishing and depressing how the situation has deteriorated from the referendum in 2016 to the situation in which we find ourselves in now. When you think that just a small majority voted for Brexit, and only a small percentage of that majority voted for its hardest version, it’s really quite incredible that we now find ourselves in a situation where we might have either a very hard Brexit or an acrimonious ‘no trade deal’ Brexit.
I think a lot of it has to do with domestic politics, and also with disappointed expectations and a certain degree of unrealistic expectations. On the European side, nobody expected this to get so hot, and on the British side nobody expected this to be so difficult. And this is how we find ourselves.
Next up, we had a comment come in from Cheryllyn, who is worried about the future. She writes: “Brexit happened, but the deadline for the deal is getting closer. If we need more time to negotiate, we have to take that time.” Is extending the deadline still an option?
How would Jackie Jones respond?
An extension of talks has been agreed [talks were extended by a month in early October]. Beyond that, constitutionally it is possible with a Treaty amendment. Politically it is possible but I don’t know if it is probable. Let’s see what happens in the USA in November.
I defy anyone being able to predict what comes next. Certainly, I’ve given up predicting – as in all my years on this planet, these past three/four years have been the most unpredictable!
And what would Helene von Bismarck say?
Well, sadly, a delay isn’t an option because it’s different to last year. Last year, there was the possibility to extend Article 50. But now, we find ourselves in the transition period, and, legally, the last moment to ask for an extension of the transition period would have been the end of June this year, and the British government would have had to ask for this, and then the EU would have had to have accepted. So, the EU couldn’t just offer it, the Brits had to ask for it, and they didn’t.
So, legally, it is sadly impossible to extend the negotiation period. What is also a reality is that even if there is an agreement now it will be a very thin one, and if there is no agreement this won’t be the end of it. There will be more negotiations, because both of these endings aren’t sustainable, so we will keep talking, but under a different legal framework and under different circumstances. But this deadline is real, and we should take it very seriously.
What’s next in the Brexit drama? Will there be a trade deal by the end of the year? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!