The Dummies Guide to understanding #Brexit

Maybe yesterday you read in the News that MPs in the United Kingdom have only five days to consider the 137 word in a bill presented to them by the government. A bill that once passed, will trigger the formal process of Britain’s exit from the European Union and thought to yourself: “Didn’t they leave the EU last June?”.

Or maybe you are one of the people who just want to understand what the fuss about #Brexit is because, for you it’s been nothing more than hashtag that got a lot of Oyinbo people riled up.

Even if your category is not up there but you still want to know, today is your lucky day.

The basics of #Brexit

As hashtags work, Brexit is a combination of words. In this case, two – Britain and Exit. The United Kingdom is currently a member of the European Union which is the economic and political community established after the World War II to ensure that the continent never went to war within itself again. The logic was that if the countries conducted trade amongst themselves, they’d never want to ruin that kind of relationship with a war.

It started as a six-member 1952 European Coal and Steel Community and has now grown to a 28 member-community that has a “single market” allowing goods and people to move around, basically as if the member states were one country using the Schengen visa. Although, some member countries like the UK do not use this. The community also has its own currency, the ;Euro, used by 19 of the member countries – the UK not one of them, its own parliament and sets rules on a wide range of topics from the environment to travel, consumer rights and even water quality policies. You know, everything that the African Union is supposed to be.

Since 1993, the European Union (EU) has been Britain’s biggest business trading partner; contributing to farmers’ subsidies, boosting jobs in the UK, redeveloping rundown areas, and and giving grants for university research among many other things. British citizens are free to work in any EU country and the partnership has even worked to reduce cost of mobile data roaming and set water quality standards in Europe.

So why would British people want to leave such a beneficial Union?

You know nothing comes free right? Not even a nice, little tidy arrangement like the European Union. Actually, it especially nice and tidy arrangements like this that are the hardest to maintain. The EU is now a union of 28 countries – with developmental and social needs from Germany to Romania.

Many Brits were starting feel like the Union felt like (a more humane) version of the expeditions their ancestors came to Africa to enjoy. In fact, people like Boris Johnson have referred to #Brexit as something that could be Britain’s Independence. They tasted a pinch of colonization and didn’t like it. British people have complained that being part of the EU was leading to them suffering stringent regulations that they would never have made for themselves. There were arguments that UK was slowly losing control in the EU to the bureaucrats in Brussels.

Some of the other criticism stem from economic concerns. They say many EU regulations are costly to the British economy and even stifling the UK such that they haven’t been able to take advantage of trading with economies like China and India. Others based their sentiments on fears of “an almost limitless number of Middle Easterners and Muslims” would pour into the E.U. through Turkey and other predominantly Muslim war torn countries.

Due to the growing discontent, last year, on the 23rd of June, the UK government organised a referendum where everyone qualified for suffrage in England, Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland was only allowed to make one of two choices – “Leave” or “Remain”. 30 million people voted “Leave” by 52% to 48%.

Because that is how leaders function, David Cameron, the former British Prime Minister, organised this referendum even though he was strongly against the choice to leave the Euopean Union. He suggested instead that they made changes to the rules people were complaining about like reducing the benefits UK paid to migrants to reduce the amount UK “wasted” on being an EU country. Obviously, 52% of his people did not agree with him so he resigned a day after the votes- because he in turn did not agree with them.

Theresa May, the new British Prime Minister was the home secretary when Cameron resigned. Although she also voted for Britain t remain, she has said that “Brexit means Brexit” and so she will follow through with what the people want.

The referendum and the coining of the term #Brexit have no legal force and alone, they do not get Britain to automatically exit the EU. In fact, the country will most likely remain in the EU till 2019 when the formal processes are complete. Except if the Prime Minister does nothing to trigger the formal process.

What processes?

Process like the one the bill that was presented yesterday. For the UK to leave EU, it has to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (the treaty that holds the EU together). It provides that:

“Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.

Right now, the United Kingdom is in the process of triggering the formal process of invoking Article 50. The EU, before the votes, expressed desire to see the UK leave as soon as possible because they did not want the call for Brexit to break down the EU totally. However, once Britain exits, they will have to deal with the rest of Europe based on World Trade Organisation rules as opposed to continually benefitting from concessions they get by being in the EU. So it is important that the UK and the EU negotiate deals that are favourable to both sides before making the exit final.

The European Union (notification of withdrawal) bill, the 137-words long bill we spoke about earlier, if passed as it is, will allow the Prime Minister to notify (as instructed by the Lisbon Treaty) the EU of the UK’s decision to exit the EU. Upon this, formal negotiations will begin and in two years (or more) the split will be made final.

Members of Parliament from the Labour Party have already tabled seven planned amendments to the bill, one of which would guarantee a “meaningful vote in parliament” on any final deal with the UK and not just leaving the deal-making to the Prime Minister. Another amendment they want is the guarantee of “full tariff- and impediment-free access” to the EU’s single market. Something the EU is already bracing itself against as it will trigger other countries to leave the bloc too if UK gets to leave so easily.

The final amendment is targeted at ensuring that if the UK does not get a sufficiently good deal from the EU, it will walk away and shift the economy towards low regulation and tax.


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