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Brexit: A short summary around a now long-standing debate

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With Brexit only a matter of days away, the UK has fallen under a blanket of uncertainty with the temporary termination of parliament leaving the nation unsure of its future, here’s a recap of what we do know. 

What is the Brexit deal?

The deal consisted of a withdrawal agreement – which set out the terms for the ‘divorce’ process. There was also a political declaration – which outlined the future relationship between the UK and EU.

The withdrawal agreement covered a range of things including:

  • the rights of EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in the EU
  • how much money the UK was to pay the EU (widely thought to be £39bn)
  • the backstop for the Irish border

Why did Parliament reject the Brexit deal?

The main sticking point for many Conservative and DUP MPs was the backstop. Currently, there are no border posts or physical barriers between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The backstop is designed to ensure that this continues after the UK leaves the EU. This would allow the continuation of trade within Ireland and then the rest of the UK. The backstop would only be needed if a permanent solution to avoid border checks could not be found. If it was needed, the backstop would keep the UK in a close trading relationship with the EU to avoid checks altogether. But many MPs were critical. They said if the backstop was used, the UK could be trapped in it for years. This would leave the UK stuck in the EU’s customs union, preventing the country from striking trade deals with other countries. Their opposition eventually led to Theresa May’s resignation.

What deal does Boris Johnson want?

Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who took over from Mrs May, says the EU must remove the backstop from the deal.

Under his plan, Northern Ireland would stay in the European single market for goods but leave the customs union. This would mean new customs checks, most of which, Mr Johnson insists, could be done electronically and away from the border to limit disruptions. The EU is considering the plan, but has previously rejected a technology-led approach to customs declarations in a bid to increase employability and to allow for more thorough checks on customs and border control. 

If the plan is rejected, Mr Johnson says the UK will leave on the 31st of October anyway, as agreed. 

Will a no-deal Brexit cause disruption?

If the UK leaves the customs union and single market on the 31st of October, then the EU will start carrying out checks on British goods. This could lead to delays at ports, such as Dover. Some fear that this could lead to traffic bottlenecks, disrupting supply routes and damaging the economy. These possible disruptions are likely to have a knock on effect as thousands of people will be affected. 

If the pound falls sharply in response to no deal and there are significant delays at ports, like Dover, it could affect the price and availability of some foods. There are also concerns over potential shortages of medicines.

Mr Johnson has tried to calm such fears by announcing an extra £2.1bn of funding to prepare for a possible no-deal outcome. However, many still share fear that this will be inadequate to subsidise the fall out of a no deal Brexit. 

Many Brexit supporters say it is hard to accurately predict what will happen or believe any economic disruption will be short-term and minor. But most economists and business groups believe no deal would lead to economic harm.

For example, the Office for Budget Responsibility – which provides independent analysis of the UK’s public finances – believes a no-deal Brexit would cause a UK recession, which would be harder to recover from compared to previous economic uncertainty faced by the UK.

 

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Beth Thurlow

Politics Editor | 19-20

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