Brexit Day: The End? Or Just the Beginning of More Battles with Brussels?

MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 19: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson poses for a photo wearing boxing gloves emblazoned with "Get Brexit Done" during a stop in his General Election Campaign trail at Jimmy Egan's Boxing Academy on November 19, 2019 in Manchester, England. Britain goes to the polls on Dec.12. …
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Tonight at 11 p.m., the United Kingdom officially leaves the European Union. Officially, as the British are still wedded to many of the EU’s institutions during the “transition” period until December 31st, 2020.

So what happens next? And what happened to the first Brexit Day?

–What Happened to March 29th, 2019?–

Brexit Day was originally supposed to happen on March 29th, 2019, two years after Article 50, the legal mechanism for leaving the EU, was triggered. However, former Prime Minister Theresa May could not pass her unpopular withdrawal agreement with the bloc through the House of Commons, and rather than take Britain out of the EU when pledged in a clean, no-deal break, she clung on to her deal and delayed Brexit twice until October 31st.

Boris Johnson, who had described Mrs May’s deal as a “big turd”, replaced her as Tory leader in the summer of 2019 he negotiated a revised deal — but also failed to take the country out of the EU on Halloween after a Remainer-dominated hung parliament pushed through legislation forcing the prime minister to seek another extension.

After a December snap general election handed the Conservatives an 80-seat Brexit-backing majority, Brexit legislation was passed into law on January 23rd and the deal was ratified in the European Parliament on Wednesday.

–After January 31st, 2020: the beginning of leaving–

For the next 11 months until December 31st, 2020, the United Kingdom will be in a “transition” period. That means the British will still be subject to many of the EU’s rules and conventions, including the Customs Union, Single Market, and the Free Movement of People migration regime.

Britain will not, however, have representation in any of Brussels’ institutions, such as the European Parliament and European Council.

During the transition, the British government can negotiate — but not implement — trade deals with countries outside of the EU, including Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and the United States.

Britain will also be working on a trade deal with the European Union. Before the British Parliament had even passed the withdrawal bill into law, eurocrats began threatening that a trade deal would be dependent upon staying closely aligned to the EU’s rules, with warnings that the City of London’s continued access to the EU’s financial markets could be hindered otherwise.

The United Kingdom remaining too close to EU institutions could be an impediment to the country signing trade deals with other countries, however.

The main reason the EU wants Britain to commit to the EU’s standards is that countries like France and Germany fear the country becoming a competitor on their doorstep. They want the British to obey a so-called a “level playing field” policy, with Brussels preparing to use the “threat” of No Deal 2.0 as a stick to beat British negotiators into submission.

There have also been suggestions from the European Commission’s president, Ursula von der Leyen, amongst others, that a new deal cannot be agreed in 11 months and that the United Kingdom will have to extend the transition period.

Such an extension was made illegal by the passing of the Brexit bill in Parliament last week — although this could be amended.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and members of his Cabinet have pledged that the United Kingdom will be fully out of the EU’s institutions by December 2020; however, Boris Johnson had previously promised the United Kingdom would be out of the EU on October 31st, as Theresa May made similar promises — 108, in total — to leave on March 29th before him.

Boris’s ability to keep his promises to the British people will be dependent on his fortitude in the next 11 months and his preparedness to leave the negotiating table and go straight to a World Trade Organization rules relationship with the EU — no deal — if need be.

–How Looking Beyond Europe Could Help Britain Get a Good Deal with the EU–

Brussels is negotiating from a dominant position because it has a of Britain’s dependence on EU trade — or so it believes. There is a world of major and emerging economies out there to trade with, and countries like the United States, New Zealand, Australia, and Japan are reaching out to the United Kingdom for post-Brexit trade deals, and the United Kingdom already does the majority of its trade beyond the EU.

Members of Boris Johnson’s Cabinet have reportedly urged the prime minister to prioritise a U.S. free trade agreement in order to put pressure on Europe to sign a good trade deal with Britain.

Prime Minister Johnson is said to be in favour of pursuing a “hell for leather” rapid deal with the U.S., as well as with Japan, with a senior Whitehall source having said last week: “The PM is very keen on the Japan deal now, and think we can use it as a bit of a trailblazer. It will really help to show Brussels as well as the rest of the world we’re ready to go.”

On Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said during an event with British foreign secretary Dominic Raab that the United Kingdom was still “at the front of the line” in future trade talks and that there was “huge opportunity for us to do really great creative business”.

–Fishing: The Acid Test of a Future UK-EU Deal–

One of the first things British and Brussels negotiators will wrangle over after Brexit Day is access to Britain’s territorial fishing waters. Fishing in Britain’s waters is a multi-billion pound industry, but since the 1970s under the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy (CFP), the country has lost control of 60 per cent its own fisheries to EU fishermen.

The symbolic battle for Britain’s fisheries will be the “acid test of Brexit” and “symbolically — very, very important”, according to Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage, with countries like France particularly keen to continue taking fish from British waters.

The EU’s trade negotiator Phil Hogan even suggested that the EU may trade off the City of London’s access to Europe’s financial markets for continued access to British fisheries.

–What Will a ‘Real’ Brexit Look Like?–

More than just taking back control of the United Kingdom’s territorial fishing waters, important though that may be, are other issues, including the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice and independence over foreign policy.

When asked what a “real” Brexit would look like, Nigel Farage said at a press conference on Wednesday: “Real Brexit means we’re not under the auspices of the European Court of Justice; Real Brexit means that we’re not aligned in terms of regulation; Real Brexit means that we have an independent foreign policy, not an EU one; that’s what Real Brexit looks like.”

Addressing the European Parliament for the final time on Wednesday, Mr Farage said: “Boris has been remarkably bold in the last few months… he’s promised us there will be no ‘level playing field’ and on that basis, I wish him every success in the next round of negotiations, I really do.

“What happens at 11 p.m. this Friday the 31st of January 2020 marks the point of no return. Once we’ve left, we’re never coming back and the rest frankly is detail. We’re going, and we will be gone.”

However, Mr Farage warned earlier that “If he [Mr Johnson] makes a mess of this, we’ll be back, giving him a very hard time.”

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