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On June 23, 2016, the residents of the United Kingdom (UK) shocked the world by voting for the country’s exit from the European Union (EU), or “Brexit.” On March 29, almost nine months after the historic referendum, the country’s Prime Minister, Theresa May, began the official separation process with a letter to EU President Donald Tusk. It urged the remaining member states to allow the UK to leave “in a fair and orderly manner, and with as little disruption as possible on each side.”
The six-page document that outlines some of the country’s hopes and requirements during and after the separation, invoked Article 50 of the EU Agreement, which states: “Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.” Officials from both sides will spend the next two years hashing out the details of this unprecedented break from the EU. The issues will range from imposing trade tariffs to migration policies, as well as deciding on new regulations to govern automobiles, agriculture, etc.
Both sides have a lot at stake as they begin the arduous process of unraveling the four-decade-long relationship. The UK, currently the world’s fifth-largest economy, has to tread carefully not to lose ground with its biggest trading partner. The EU, on the other hand, has to ensure that Britain does not get a better deal than it currently has. That’s because if the new treaty is even perceived as more favorable, other European nations will start to consider leaving the Union as well. Tusk has made it clear that the EU Council’s priority, as it goes through the discussions, is to uphold the interests of the Union’s remaining 440 million citizens.
The UK’s negotiating power could also be weakened because a majority of Scotland and Northern Ireland, two of the four nations that make up the country, did not vote for Brexit. The residents are, therefore, unhappy with the current situation. On March 28, the Scottish Parliament authorized the Scottish Government to hold a referendum on the nation’s independence from the UK. The vote is scheduled to take place sometime between late 2018 and early 2019 after the Scottish people have some clarity on the consequences of the separation from the EU. Meanwhile, Irish nationalists are using Brexit as an excuse to rekindle their decades-long fight to make Ireland an independent nation.
There is going to be much uncertainty as the UK officials and members of the EU Council navigate through this uncharted territory over the next two years. However, both sides have promised to make the process as painless as possible for the residents. Hopefully, they will keep their word.
Resources: CNN.com, Guardian.co.uk, Wikipedia.org, The Verge.com