Britain Bothered by Brexit: Three Years Down the Line, What Has Happened?
With more than three years since the 2016 referendum vote and three Prime Ministers later, Britain’s policymakers have been battling to bring Brexit to an end. The British Parliament has until the end of October to clear the uncertainty that has engulfed the country and damaged business investments and financial markets.
So how did Britain’s political system make such a mess of Brexit?
This article will break down everything you need to know about Brexit from the history leading up to the June 2016 referendum vote to the accession of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister.
In former PM David Cameron’s election campaign, he promised to give the general public a referendum vote in which they could decide the future of Britain’s relationship with the European Union. There was a divide amongst the British people with parties such as Nigel Farage’s UKIP (UK Independence Party) fighting for the UK to be freed from the European Union, and on the other hand, the Labour Party and even David Cameron himself arguing the case that Britain was stronger within the EU.
Issues including jobs, immigration and national debt were some of the main points focused on by Brexiteers whereas Remainers said that leaving the single market and the customs union would cause long-term damage to the UK’s economy.
With the referendum decision to withdraw from the bloc, David Cameron announced his resignation as Prime Minister, making way for Theresa May to step into the leadership role.
“The British people have voted to leave the European Union and their will must be respected,” said Cameron. “The will of the British people is an instruction that must be delivered. It was not a decision that was taken lightly, not least because so many things were said by so many different organizations about the significance of this decision. I do not think it would be right for me to try to be the captain that steers our country to its next destination.”
Watch David Cameron’s full resignation speech by clicking here.
Britain’s Parliament was volatile even before Theresa May took charge but she wiped out any chance of delivering Brexit by dividing the Conservative Party, repeatedly failing to push a withdrawal deal through Parliament, and finally attempting to compromise with the Leader of the Opposition Party, Jeremy Corbyn who was adamant to chain the UK to the EU through custom union agreements.
Theresa May’s fruitless premiership is symbolized by her shambolic Conservative Party speech in 2017. During her address she was interrupted by a prankster who gave her a fake P45 form, was struck by a fit of coughing and then the most striking metaphor occurred when the lettering that spelt out the Conservative slogan ‘Building a Country that Works for Everyone’ started to fall off the wall behind her.
“We did not get the victory that we wanted because our national campaign fell short. It was too scripted, too presidential and it allowed the Labour Party to paint us as the voice of continuity when the public wanted to hear a message of change. I hold my hands up for that. I take responsibility, I led the campaign and I am sorry.”
Theresa May announced her resignation saying: “I feel as certain today as I did 3 years ago, that in a democracy if you give people a choice you have a duty to implement what they decide. I have done my best to do that. I will shortly leave the job that has been the honour of my life to hold.”
In 2017 May called a snap general election which exposed her weakness as a political campaigner as she had managed to lose both the support of her party and a majority in the Commons. On the 29th of March Theresa May’s Brexit withdrawal agreement was thwarted for a third time by 344 votes to 286. More than 40 ministers were either dismissed or resigned under Theresa May’s rule as PM.
With Theresa May’s resignation on the horizon, the Conservative Party needed a new leader with Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt emerging as frontrunners for the number one spot. After weeks of campaigning up and down the country, Johnson eventually came out on top with over 90,000 votes.
What does Brexit look like under the control of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister of Britain?
During the Conservative leadership contest, Boris Johnson told talkRADIO’s Political Editor Ross Kempsell that in terms of Brexit “we will, of course, be pushing our plan into action and getting ready to come out on October the 31st come what may, do or die. […] We need to get rid of this current withdrawal agreement and get the best bits in it, put them through Parliament and then we want to make sure that we keep that money suspended and waiting to hand it over if we get the deal that we want and then we want to make sure that we come up with a solution to the Northern Irish border. I think the way to come out is with a standstill between the UK and the EU so that we keep going with the existing arrangements until such time as we’ve completed our free trade agreement.”
In his first speech as PM, Boris Johnson told reporters that the three years of gloom and pessimis surrounding Brexit will come to an abrupt end with his leadership. With a stark pledge to prove the doubters wrong he reassured the British public that he will strive to withdraw the UK from the EU on October 31st ‘come what may’.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson then went on to express his determination to secure a ‘new and better deal’ that will enhance all the options that Brexit presents, whilst cultivating a new relationship with the EU bloc, that ensures free trade agreements and ‘mutual support’.
But what sort of impact is PM Johnson’s ‘do or die’ attitude having on business investment and the potential relationship between the UK and the Eurozone after the October 31st deadline passes?
Well, businesses have long been voicing their concerns regarding the uncertainty that is oozing from Brexit. As much as the future relationship between the UK and the bloc remains up in the air so does the ability for businesses operating within and without the EU to plan ahead. For example, the UK’s food sector has recently warned that a no-deal Brexit on October 31st could wreak havoc on the industry because stockpiling has already reached its limits with warehouses already filled to their maximum capacity in preparations for the Christmas period, a no-deal Brexit could include increased tariffs and delays at customs checks. Therefore, the variety of certain food products such as fresh fruit and vegetables could become more expensive and limited in quantities for the British consumer.
The UK’s automotive industry has also struggled under the Brexit pressure, with major international companies like Nissan and Honda packing up and leaving the UK altogether. Nissan’s plans to build its latest X-trail SUV model was scrapped after the uncertainty proved too much for the Japanese carmaker.
Jeremy Corbyn, the leader of the Labour Party, told Sky News that he was ‘not in the slightest’ worried about going head-to-head with PM Johnson in an election. “We’ll go out there and we’ll make our case. We live in a country that is more unequal than almost any other in Europe that is becoming more unequal. There have been no real investments since the end of the miners’ strike. If the Prime Minister is trying to take us out of the EU on a no-deal Brexit at the end of October, we will oppose that. I guarantee that we will do everything to prevent a no-deal exit and we will do everything to challenge this government.”
Click here to watch the full interview.
Economists have also raised the issue that consumer spending could cripple after the summer period expires because of Boris Johnson’s ‘do or die’ attitude towards delivering Brexit on time which could result in a no-deal withdrawal prompting a spike in tariffs and delays at the ports.
When the Leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn, was asked what he would do to combat the threat of a no-deal Brexit he said:
“We will put a motion of no-confidence against this government in order to try and stop no-deal. The Prime Minister seems desperate to take Britain out of the European Union on the 31st of October without a deal. The problems of that are huge on food, medicine, jobs, industry and investment but he also seems to be lining up with Donald Trump and all of his administration to do some kind of sweetheart deal which can only be damaging to our jobs and our regulations in this country on environment, on food standards, on workers’ rights. He’s taking us away from Europe and into the arms of Donald Trump by his obsession with a no-deal Brexit.”
To watch the full interview, click here.
On the one hand Boris Johnson is hell-bent on delivering Brexit no matter what, whereas on the other hand Jeremy Corbyn is plotting in the background trying to come up with a maneuver that will trump Johnson’s push for a no-deal Brexit. It is precisely this political tug-of-war which encapsulates the idea of Brexit uncertainty. Businesses and investors cannot possibly plan ahead with this sheer amount of inconclusiveness.
What will happen if Corbyn’s vote of no-confidence beats the current Tory Government?
Should the Labour-led vote of no-confidence win a majority in Parliament Jeremy Corbyn wants to take charge of a caretaker government that will try and prevent a no-deal Brexit and put the vote to the British people in a general election.
“Immediately we would seek an extension to article 50, that clearly is a result of negotiations with the European Union so it’s hard to say how long that would be, but obviously long enough to have a general election and for the new Parliament to be able to legislate for the future,” said Jeremy Corbyn.
Straight away we can see that Corbyn’s discourse is littered with uncertainties and generalizations that seem to float off into the distance. For example, he says: “…it’s hard to say how long that would be,” this does not suggest that he is in any hurry whatsoever.
As things stand, the Brexit situation continues with no clear resolution in sight. Three years after the 2016 referendum vote, will Boris Johnson be the one to take the UK out of the EU once and for all? Or will Jeremy Corbyn take control and postpone the Brexit deadline? How will food, medicine, jobs, industry, and investment be affected if Britain leaves without a deal?
The answer to all these crucial questions remains the same; time will tell.