What is Brexit? A guide to Britain leaving the EU in plain English

PM Theresa May is now fighting to stay on top after multiple votes eroded her vision of Brexit. Here's the latest on Britain's departure from the EU.

What is Brexit?

Brexit comes from merging the words "Britain" and "exit".

The term has been widely used ever since the idea of a referendum on leaving the EU was put forward.

More than 30million people voted in the June 2016 referendum with a turnout of 71.8 per cent. Leave won by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

People now talk about “soft” and “hard” Brexit in reference to how close the UK will be to the EU post separation.

The road to triggering Article 50 — which saw Britain officially start the process of leaving the EU — was paved with complications for the PM, including a Supreme Court case ruling MPs needed to vote on Brexit negotiations.

But it was finally triggered on March 29, 2017, meaning the official departure date and move into the transition phase is due to take place on March 29, 2019.

Article 50: What it says

  • Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
  • A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
  • The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
  • For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it. A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
  • If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

Is Brexit going to be delayed?

EU chiefs are drawing up a plan to delay Brexit until 2021 to do away with a need for any Irish backstop.

Under the latest thinking in Brussels, Britain’s 21 month transition period after exit day on March 29 would be scrapped for continuing membership instead.

The move would mean a trade deal could be agreed by the end of December 2020, leaving no need for a backstop that Brexiteers argue will trap the UK forever.

The idea to break the current deadlock is favoured by EU Council President Donald Tusk, but would be bitterly opposed by Leave backing MPs.

It emerged as Theresa May held talks with EU leaders in the margins of a desert summit in a desperate bid to show progress before the next showdown Commons vote.

In a positive sign for the PM, Irish leader Leo Varadkar appeared to give ground by saying he would agree to offering reassurances the backstop would be temporary.

Eleventh hour talks for a new Brexit deal were on the verge of collapse this week as EU chiefs clashed bitterly with Cabinet ministers in Brussels.

British and EU negotiators hit deadlock over a compromise on the Irish backstop.

No10 admitted that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox’s meeting with Michel Barnier was “difficult” and the pair had “a robust exchange of views” – diplomatic code for a blazing row.

Mrs May jetted to Strasbourg for last-minute negotiations ahead of a "meaningful vote" on March 12.

But for the second time, her Brexit deal was crushed, after being voted against 391 to 242.

Tonight, March 13, MPs will vote on whether to crash out of the EU with a No Deal.

But, if that is also rejected, there'll be yet another vote on March 14 on whether to delay Brexit by extending Article 50.

If that fails, the UK will also leave the EU without a deal.

What happens after March 29, 2019?

The transition period is a bridging agreement between the current situation – where we are members of the EU – and our long-term relationship outside the bloc.

Also known as an "implementation phase", it allows for the UK to keep some of the same arrangements with Brussels on trade and other matters until a new comprehensive trade agreement is sealed.

In March 2018, Britain secured a transition deal that will also allow ministers to seek trade agreements around the globe.

The UK will also be free to set its own foreign policy as soon as Brexit happens, as well as negotiate and sign new trade deals anywhere in the world – to implement them in 2021.

However EU chiefs made it clear the period, which allows the UK to stay in the Single Market and Customs Union, will only come into force if the Irish border is sorted.

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis and EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier unveiled terms for the 21 month interim period.

The UK will not be fully out of the EU until December 31, 2020 – four and a half years after the historic referendum decision.

But EU leaders have suggested they could extend the transition period further.

What is the European Union and why did Britain vote to leave?

The European Union is an economic and political partnership. There are currently 28 members states including the United Kingdom.

It began as a trade group of six nations in the 1950s.

The UK first applied to join what was then the European Economic Community in 1961 and finally became a member in 1973.

Now called the European Union, it has grown to include former Soviet bloc states and has at its heart a “single market” allowing goods and people to move freely.

It has its own parliament, central bank and the euro currency used by 19 countries, with some members including Britain opting to keep their own money.

Eurocrats have been pushing for ever closer political and financial union, which could include a European Army separate from the Nato alliance.

Those in favour of leaving said Britain was being held back by EU red tape with too many rules on business.

They also campaigned on the issue of sovereignty and said they wanted Britain to take back full control of its borders.

Beyond the question of ceasing to be a member of the EU, what Brexit actually means in practice has been the subject of intense debate ever since.

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