Untangling Brexit: Britain Faces Two-Year Ultimatum and More

By Kelly Beach

On June 23, 2016, Britain formally voted to leave the European Union. To undertake this process, however, is not as simple as writing declaration to that effect, and despite Britain’s claim to newfound autonomy, the country still exists in a limbo, as their economy and politics are still very much entwined with the EU. In the wake of the summer of 2016, many consequences have already taken their toll on the United Kingdom of Great Britain, including the British pound’s most dramatic decrease in value since 1985, and the sudden resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron soon after the Brexit vote went through.[1]

Current Prime Minister, Theresa May, has plans to bring Britain to complete political and economic autonomy which begins with the triggering of Article 50, a formal series of negotiations necessary to leave the European Union. This will be a massive step, as these negotiations, which will continue for the next two years, will ultimately decide the fate of the United Kingdom’s economic composition as well as their diplomatic relations with the EU. The two-year period will begin in March 2017, which would mean Britain has until March 2019 to finalize all exit negations with the European Union. Triggering Article 50 is but the beginning of an arduous two-year diplomatic process between UK and EU. When 2019 finally rolls around there will still be many lingering legal and political ends from the last 49 years to tie up, which will likely not resolve for some time.

Theresa May has pushed Britain to leave the EU’s single market economy in order to become fully independent and handle migration issues that many conservatives see as plaguing Britain’s job market. Many UK citizens, however, fear that the negotiations may fail or simply take longer than the allotted time, meaning that Britain would not receive any concessions in their exiting act. This would likely put them in an even worse spot economically than if they had not left in the first place. At the beginning of February, the British government released a “White Paper,” a twelve-article document outlining May’s plan to “tak[e] control of [Britain’s] own laws.”[2] This White Paper roughly outlines how the government plans to depart the E.U.[3] and also deals with topics concerning migration, sovereignty, trade, border security, and immigration. Following the release of the White Paper, Brexit Secretary David Davis stated the UK’s “best days are still to come,” outside the EU.[4] Yet not everyone is nearly as optimistic, as Guardian journalists Toby Helm and Tracy McVeigh state: “It is clear from our evidence that a complete breakdown in negotiations represents a very destructive outcome, leading to mutually assured damage to the EU and the UK. Both sides would suffer economic losses and harm to their international reputations.”[5]

If the next two years’ negations between Britain and the European Union go in Britain’s favor, it is expected that they will seek other economic partners outside the EU. Since Britain’s exit, many have speculated that the United States would be the natural trade partner. If Britain’s successful separation becomes a reality, however, the neighboring commonwealth countries of Scotland and Northern Ireland would undoubtedly determine their own fates as to whether or not to remain in the EU, or for that mater the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland has already discussed reunification with its southern half, and the First Minister of Scotland sees leaving the EU’s single market as “democratically unacceptable.”[6] With the Scottish National Party in almost complete control of the Scottish seats in Parliament, a future separation vote from the United Kingdom is a very real possibility.

With all of the fears and factors that go in to such a bold political decision, these next few years will test the strength of international diplomacy as well dictate whether the “Brexit Train” will smoothly stay its course into peaceful separation, or become horribly and devastatingly derailed.


[1] Peter Spence. “What Does a Falling Pound Mean for the British Economy?” The Telegraph. July 06, 2016. Accessed March 1, 2017. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/business/2016/07/06/what-does-a-falling-pound-mean-for-the-british-economy/.

[2] Brexit Plan Published in Government White Paper.” BBC News. February 02, 2017. Accessed February 26, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-38836906.

[3] Elizabeth Piper. “Britain will try to negotiate amicable EU divorce: Brexit paper.” Reuters. February 02, 2017. Accessed February 27, 2017. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-britain-eu-whitepaper-idUSKBN15H1PY.

[4] Tom Peck. “Brexit Bill: MPs Vote to Give Theresa May the Power to Trigger Article 50 and Begin Formal EU Negotiations.” The Independent. February 01, 2017. Accessed February 11, 2017. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-bill-passes-latest-mps-vote-trigger-article-50-begin-formal-eu-negotiations-a7558186.html.

[5] Toby Helm and Tracy McVeigh. “MPs Slam Theresa May Over Lack of a Plan if Brexit Talks Collapse.” The Observer. March 11, 2017. Accessed March 11, 2017. https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2017/mar/11/brexit-trigger-article-50-theresa.

[6] Alex Hunt and Brian Wheeler. “Brexit: All You Need to Know About the UK Leaving the EU.” BBC News. March 08, 2017. Accessed March 9, 2017. http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887.

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