For Auld Lang Syne: Looking Back at Brexit

Today, the 31st of January 2020, is a day which some thought that would never come, yet it is here upon us: Brexit. Earlier this week, Nigel Farage showed his ‘Brexit-socks’ in the European Parliament for one last time, which makes today truly the end of an era. For the past four years, Brexit has dominated the news on an almost daily basis. While this undoubtedly will not diminish promptly, questions like “will the UK actually leave the European Union?” will receive their final answer, namely a full-blown yes. Before saying farewell, it seemed appropriate to reminisce over the battle fought over the past years, the consequences of which would eventually culminate in today.

Brexit started as a way for former prime minister David Cameron to send a message to the EU. Since the beginning of the 2010s, a group led by Nigel Farage started to grow, which blamed Britain’s problems on the EU. These anti-EU sentiments were strengthened when a veto by the UK, against a new treaty concerning economic cooperation, was overruled in the Union. All through the British parliament, a feeling of weakness against the EU shook the status quo. Therefore, Cameron considered it timely to re-negotiate the position of the UK in the EU. To strengthen his position, Cameron figured it was best for the United Kingdom to flex its muscles and send a message to Brussels: we are our own boss. To show how the EU how easy it would be for them to lose the Brits, a referendum was held to gauge the British’s population’s will with a simple question: do you want to leave the European Union? At this point, Cameron realised the support for a Brexit and the willingness of the leave campaigners to accomplish their goals. In hindsight, Cameron admitted to having underestimated his opponents. When the (in)famous date of 23thof June 2016came around, almost 52% of the UK’s population voted in favour of leaving the EU. And so, the dreadfully slow and painful divorce began.

The divorce started with a defeated Cameron, who announced that within the coming month he would resign as prime minister. He called for a new prime minister to take the British people in the direction they had chosen, someone who would take the British ship to its next destination. This new prime minister would be Theresa May, who entered office on the 11th of July 2016. Despite widespread expectations, May did not start off with elections. She immediately started preparation for the initiation of Article 50, which would eventually be triggered on the 29th of March 2017. On that day, a letter in which the UK resigned from its membership of the European Union and the statement that it wanted to retreat from Euratom were delivered to the president of the European Council. With a timeframe of two years, May had the job to create a plan to have a Brexit-deal which should satisfy both the EU and the British parliament. Soon after the initiation of Article 50, May reluctantly accepted the need to gain support in the house of commons as she has realised that her current majority would not be enough to pass the legislation needed for Brexit. On the 18th of April 2017, May announced that new elections would be held. Although the polls were promising at first, the campaign of the Conservative Party failed miserably in increasing its share of seats in the House of Commons. The exact opposite was reached, the Conservatives lost their majority.

Now leading a minority government, Theresa May remained prime minister as the Conservative Party still possessed the most seats in parliament. A year of internal turmoil began, as the pro-EU faction of the conservatives clashed more and more often with the pro-Brexit side. May did manage to create a possible agreement to leave the EU in November 2018. The only thing left for her to do was to get the parliament, most importantly her own party, on board. There was, however, one obstacle in her way which would proof to be insurmountable. The border between Ireland and Northern Ireland was such a sensitive issue that a perfect solution did not exist. May tried the pass her proposal through parliament three times, yet it was impossible to satisfy those in favour of a hard Brexit and those in favour of a soft Brexit and the interests of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party. Like Cameron before her, May admitted her defeat. This would give rise to the prime minister who would “Get Brexit Done”, Boris Johnson. He had been at the forefront of the leave campaigners ever since the start. Immediately, he showed his capability by arranging a new solution with the EU regarding the Irish back stop, but this plan would also get stuck in parliament. Once more, elections needed to be held. The results had a stark contrast with the prior elections as this time, the conservatives attained the largest majority since the 2010 elections. Johnson was able to pass his legislation, which meant it was now truly time for the actual exit of the Brits. Johnson announced that on the 31st of January 2020, the UK would leave the European Union.

In this article we have revisited some of the highs and lows of Brexit. While barely able to touch upon some, let alone all the details of Brexit, a short overview was given. We have seen three prime ministers and three elections, the unexpected loss of a parliamentary majority and the tremendous increase in seats for the same party, but most importantly we are seeing the end coming near. The leaving chapter of this story is finally over, but we are just starting the discussion on how the EU and the Brits will continue. Furthermore, it will finally become clear what the actual consequences of leaving the EU are, which might prompt other EU member states following the British example. These questions will be answered within the coming ten months, which is the time frame Prime Minister Johnson has given himself to arrange a new deal with the EU. For now, we can only say goodbye to a friend and founding member of the Union and hope for the best. So tonight, we’ll take a cup o’ kindness yet, for auld lang syne.

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