What happens now?

Countdown: The UK will leave the EU on March 29, exactly 1,009 days after the Brexit referendum.

What is going on with Brexit? And what will happen next? After a year and a half of intense negotiations, the UK is getting closer to a divorce deal with the EU. That was the easy part.

  • Can I get a quick Brexit refresher?

    Absolutely. The UK has been a member of the European Union (EU) since 1973. Its popularity came and went over the years, until a referendum on the UK’s membership was held on June 23, 2016. Almost 52% of UK voters decided it was time to leave. After a turbulent couple of years, the government has finally agreed with the EU what that might look like.

  • So… a Brexit deal has been made?

    Not yet, but it is closer than ever before. On Tuesday, the negotiators completed a 585-page draft of the withdrawal agreement. Yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May presented it to her Cabinet, which agreed to support it after a “long, detailed and impassioned debate”.

    The agreement includes a “backstop” plan for the Irish border, which has been the most difficult part of talks. It also has commitments for EU citizens living in the UK (and vice versa) and details about the divorce bill (which will cost the UK £39 billion).

    Now the deal needs to be approved at an emergency EU summit next Sunday. If that does not happen, there is a European Council summit planned for next month which is seen as the final chance for a deal.

  • Then what?

    Then the hard part begins — May has to get approval from Parliament.

    Last December, MPs forced the government to give them a “meaningful vote” on the deal. However, no one knows if they will approve it.

    Her opposition, the Labour Party, are likely to vote against it. Normally that would not matter, but the Conservatives do not have a majority in the House of Commons, meaning they need help from other parties. Usually this comes from the DUP, but on Tuesday its leader, Arlene Foster, said she would not accept a deal that would “weaken the union” between Britain and Northern Ireland.

    Then there are the rebels amongst May’s own party, such as Brexiteers Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg, who have called the agreement a “betrayal”. Others, such as Remainer Dominic Grieve, think the UK would be better off staying in the EU.

  • What if there’s no deal?

    The UK is scheduled to leave on March 29, 2019. There have been many apocalyptic predictions about what would happen if it crashed out without a deal: planes grounded at airports, hospitals running out of medicine, and so on. However, the UK has been making preparations for this for months. Trade would revert to standard international rules, meaning tariffs for imports from the EU. The economy would likely suffer. There would probably be long delays at airports as border checks increased. But the world would not end.

    If no deal has been agreed by January 21, a government minister would have five days to tell Parliament the plan, and MPs could get involved. At this point, things would be looking very bad for May.

  • If there is a deal?

    Then an “EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill” will be passed in Parliament, enshrining Brexit in law. MPs might take that opportunity to hash out some final details.

    It also has to be passed by the European Parliament, representing at least 20 of the other 27 members of the EU and 65% of their population.

  • Can Brexit be stopped?

    Technically, yes. If Parliament votes down a deal, no one knows what will happen next. The Labour Party is hoping for a general election. The Conservatives may try to replace May without one, or go back to renegotiate with the EU. Some have argued that Brexit Day should be postponed until a second referendum takes place.

    But May has repeatedly said this will not happen; she is adamant the UK will leave the EU on March 29.

  • Then what?

    Then a “transition period” will begin, ending in December 2020 — and the UK will start negotiating its future.

You Decide

  1. Should MPs try to stop Brexit?

Activities

  1. Imagine you are prime minister on March 29, 2019. At 11pm, the UK will leave the European Union for good. Write a speech about what the country’s future will hold.

Word Watch

European Union
A political and economic union of 28 European countries. Back in 1973, it was still known by its original name, the European Economic Community.
Turbulent
Former Prime Minister David Cameron resigned the morning after the referendum, leading to a leadership election in the Conservative Party. Theresa May won and became prime minister. In April 2017, she called a general election, hoping to increase her majority in the House of Commons. Instead, it was lost.
Backstop
A plan for what will happen in Ireland if the UK and EU do not agree on a deal. The backstop would prevent a hard border being set up between the Republic of Ireland (which would still be in the EU) and Northern Ireland (which would leave, along with the UK). Few people would want a border between them, but critics say that the agreed terms will mean that the UK is tied too closely to EU rules.
Commitments
The agreement will protect citizens currently living abroad under EU free movement laws and allow them to stay.
DUP
The Democratic Unionist Party, which believes Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom.

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What happens now?
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