Life after Brexit

Gridlock: Deal negotiations have reached a standstill after eight months of talks.

From 1 January, the UK will no longer be following EU rules as the next stage of Brexit begins. What changes have been agreed on so far? And how likely are they to affect daily life?

  • Where exactly are we with Brexit?

    Since the majority of the country voted to leave the EU in 2016, there have been many different stages of Brexit – as well as two general elections and two new Prime Ministers. On 31 January of this year, the UK officially left the EU on the day that has become known as “Brexit Day”.

    In reality though, very little actually changed. This was because the rest of 2020 was set aside as a transition period. The plan was that the UK would continue to follow the bloc’s rules, while both sides continued to negotiate a post-Brexit deal.

  • Didn’t we have a deal already?

    Sort of. When the UK left the EU in January, there was a deal called the Withdrawal Agreement. Also known as the Divorce Bill, the agreement was voted through by parliament in 2019 after the Conservatives won an 80-seat majority in the general election.

    But this deal only decided how the UK would leave. Crucially, it did not set out what the future relationship would look like between both sides. Now, discussions have reached a deadlock as no decision has yet been made.

  • Why is it so hard to agree on a deal?

    At the moment, over £650bn worth of goods, from cheese to medicines, cross between the UK and the EU every year. None are subject to tariffs, and all are produced to the same standard.

    But at the end of the transition period, these rules will cease to exist. And while neither side wants huge trade tariffs, negotiators have hit a wall on some key issues such as fishing.

    Another sticking point is the level playing field – measures to make sure businesses on one side don’t have an unfair advantage. The EU wants the UK to stick closely to its rules, while the UK hopes to set its own.

  • So, what will definitely change on 1 January?

    Whether there is a deal or not, the way people live and work in the UK will be different. Anyone planning to move between the EU and the UK to live, work or retire will no longer be allowed to do so automatically, and the UK will apply a new points-based immigration system.

    Holidays will also change as free movement stops. If you arrive in an EU country from the UK, you will need to make sure your passport is valid or at least six months. Plus, you’ll have to stand in a different queue to get it checked. Travellers will also need to make sure to take out health insurance as the EHICs will cease to work.

  • What about Ireland?

    The question of the Irish border has been one of the most difficult points throughout negotiations. Northern Ireland is the only part of the UK to have a land border with the EU. The Withdrawal Agreement made sure that there would be no border checks along the Irish border to protect peace and preserve what was achieved in the Good Friday Agreement.

    So, Northern Ireland will continue to enforce the EU’s customs rules, making checks between the two nations unnecessary.

  • How will it affect me if I live in the EU?

    That depends. If you are a British citizen living in the EU, your family will be allowed to apply to stay. Similar rules apply for EU citizens living in the UK, who have the right to apply for settled status – meaning they will be allowed to remain in the UK after the rules change.

    Meanwhile, people on both sides may be affected by the return of roaming charges on mobile devices. Imported goods could also change in price. Not everything will be different, though: animals can still move between the UK and the EU as long as they hold onto their pet passports.

You Decide

  1. Should UK and EU citizens get to vote on any deal made?

Activities

  1. Prepare for a debate in class: “A referendum is the fairest way to vote.”

Word Watch

Bloc
A group of countries or political parties with common interests that have formed an alliance. During the Cold War, Europe was divided into the Eastern Bloc and the Western Bloc.
General election
The election was called by Boris Johnson’s government, the second in two years. It was held on 12 December 2019 and the Conservatives won a large majority, having failed to obtain one at all in Theresa May’s 2017 snap election.
Tariffs
A tax imposed by a government on imports or exports of goods.
Fishing
The UK says that any new agreement on fisheries must be based on the understanding that “British fishing grounds are first and foremost for British boats”. Meanwhile, the EU wants access for its boats, saying a “fair deal” on fisheries is a fundamental condition for a free trade agreement.
Automatically
Anyone living in an EU country has freedom of movement, which means they can move between countries freely with no checks at borders. It also means all EU citizens can choose to live and work in any other EU country without passing tests or applying for work visas.
Immigration system
The new system will treat EU and non-EU citizens equally. Anyone wishing to come to the UK for work will have to meet a specific set of requirements for which they will score points. Visas will be given out to those with enough points.
EHIC
The European Health Insurance Card allows the owner access to healthcare in the country they are visiting, at the same price that a resident of that country would pay.
Good Friday Agreement
The agreement was made in 1998 after nearly two years of talks. One of the decisions made was to remove all visible signs of a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Some fear that any infrastructure – such as border posts or CCTV – could lead to political instability.
Settled status
The rights of EU, EEA and Swiss citizens living in the UK will remain the same until 30 June next year. After that, they will be allowed to apply for “settled status” or “pre-settled status”, which will allow them to stay.

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