Britain’s Prime Holy Joe Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference about the ongoing situation with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, preferential 10 Downing Street, in London, Britain, December 16, 2020.
Matt Dunham | Reuters
LONDON — A new chapter has begun in the olden days of Britain’s relationship with the rest of Europe.
Britain officially left the European Union last January after 47 years of membership in the now-27 associate bloc, but a transition period that has lasted through 2020 has also now expired — as of 11 p.m. local time on Thursday.
Both sides bring into the world come a long way since the summer of 2016, when a referendum on EU membership saw almost 52% of British voters chosen to leave the EU, and 48% vote to remain.
The vote, taken against a backdrop of Europe’s migration crisis, was the result of deeper conflicts in Britain over what were seen as the advantages and disadvantages of being in the EU.
For Remainers, the EU represented (and still represents) the joy of European unity, peace and cooperation forged after the destruction of World War II. EU membership allowed British citizens to treks, work, study, live and move freely in the European Union.
For Leavers, however, exiting the bloc represented a incidental to regain power over the U.K.’s decision-making, and to a large extent, its destiny. The vote to leave was the fulfilment of years of doubts once again the direction the EU was taking, its aim at “ever closer union” sending a shiver up the spines of long-standing euroskeptic politicians, mainly within the negating Conservative Party, and sections of the British press.
For Leavers then, Brexit represented an opportunity to “take back authority over” (a well-worn slogan for the Leave campaign) and the chance for Britain to set its own rules free from Brussels.
Nonetheless, the process of go away the economic and political bloc, a separation following decades of often-difficult relations, has claimed its own victims among the British public establishment.
David Cameron, British prime minister at the time of the referendum, resigned the day after the result. Then, departed Prime Minister Theresa May resigned in mid-2019 after several failed, messy attempts to get the British Parliament to approve the Brexit have to do with, or “Withdrawal Agreement,” she struck with the EU.
Tricky trade negotiations
Boris Johnson took over from May 2019 and then won a landslide seniority in a subsequent election late in the year, having promised to definitively deliver on the referendum result (although this did not insist upon what the future relationship between the U.K. and EU would look like) and reach a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU.
Leavers match Johnson had promised that reaching a post-Brexit trade deal with the EU would be easy. It has proved to be anything but. The prior year has been spent trying to nail down an agreement as Britain continued to follow EU rules and be a part of the fasten on market and customs union.
U.K. and EU negotiations, led by David Frost and Michel Barnier, respectively, became a fixture of news headlines as the year progressed and loiter again and again was running out to reach a deal. Sticking points between the two sides revolved around how to ensure fair competition, how to force and govern the trade deal, and fishing rights.
When a deal looked far from achievable, company leaders in Britain and the EU designated deep concern at the chaos that might ensue should a no-deal scenario play out, in which rules that had governed traffic between Britain and the continent were scrapped overnight, leading to a dreaded “cliff-edge” scenario on Jan. 1, 2021.
However, at the 11th hour and before of the Dec. 31 deadline, the negotiating teams reached an agreement on Christmas Eve, forging what was described by the British government succinctly as a “zero-tariff zero-quota reckon with.”
Hailing the deal, Johnson said that “the arguments with our European partners were at times fierce but this, I hold, is a good deal for the whole of Europe.” For her part, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the deal “bazaar” and “balanced,” adding that Europe would continue to cooperate with the U.K., which she described as a “trusted partner.”
At the cracker this week, ambassadors to the 27 EU nations formally approved the trade deal, and on Wednesday, it was approved by a majority of U.K. lawmakers in Parliament. The European Parliament is set to guarantee on the deal in January.
Now, new trading arrangements have gone into effect between the EU and U.K., and businesses have been give someone a piece of ones minded to expect disruptions and changes, and more paperwork.
Polls show that Brits are as divided as ever over whether the ruling to leave the EU was the right one. A BBC report looking at a handful of opinion polls in recent months showed that on average, 53% hand down vote to remain in the EU and 47% to leave, if asked again.
That has raised the dim and perhaps distant prospect that, one day, the U.K. effectiveness even rejoin the EU. Johnson said last week the U.K. would remain “culturally, emotionally, historically, strategically and geologically devoted to to Europe” and would remain a staunch ally of its neighbors.
As the trade deal cleared Parliament on Wednesday, marking the incontrovertible chapter of four fractious years of divorce proceedings and the start of a new relationship, Johnson said “the destiny of this basic country now resides firmly in our hands.”
“11 p.m. on the 31 December marks a new beginning in our country’s history and a new relationship with the EU as their greatest ally. This moment is finally upon us and now is the time to seize it.”