Nearly three years after the 23 June 2016 Brexit vote, the UK-EU divorce is yet to be finalised. The formal process of leaving has been longer than expected and uncertainty levels are high. Perhaps the close 51.9% to 48.1% vote margin was a telltale sign that leaving would not be easy. Nonetheless, the only choice left is moving forward.
What is the way forward? Will the UK decide to stay or leave, and after how long?
The events of the past couple of weeks have changed many things and they will undoubtedly determine the outcome of Brexit. They may even provide some insights into the much-talked-about possible second referendum.
The whirlwind of the past few weeks
The UK was scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019 at 11pm UK time. Fast forward to the present and the UK is still in the EU. Just when everyone thought that the proceedings of the past two years were coming to an end, a turn of events over the past few weeks has changed a lot of things.
UK MPs rejected the withdrawal agreement for the third time on 29 March 2019, barely two weeks after their second rejection on 12 March. This third rejection came eight days after the leaders of the remaining 27 EU countries showed interest in postponing the Brexit date.
On March 29, the UK was given until 12 April 2019 to decide on how to proceed. The possible options were:
The UK went with the first option and leaders of the remaining 27 EU states postponed Brexit on 10 April 2019. The latest the UK can now leave is 31 October 2019, although this depends on a crucial factor – the UK’s participation in the EU parliament elections that begin on 23 May 2019. The UK currently holds 73 seats which make up nearly 10 percent of the 751 total seats.
A possible catch-22
The EU is already in a quandary because of these elections. A decision by the UK to vote creates two big problems going into the future. The first problem relates to the EU parliamentary elections which are held every five years. There may be some structural challenges until the next election if the UK takes part in the elections, takes up its seats and Brexit ends up happening.
Secondly, there are concerns over the possible involvement of the UK in decision-making processes that will impact the future of an EU that UK citizens may not even be a part of after October 31. Things may be simpler if the UK decides to Brexit now. If the UK decides not to take part in the elections and does not approve the withdrawal agreement, it will have to Brexit on 31 May 2019.
Is there any EXIT sign in sight?
Moving forward, there are several options available to the UK. One thing is certain though – there is a lot of work ahead, especially now when confidence is low. The top possible choices include holding another referendum for UK citizens to vote again, renegotiating the exit deal, and selecting one of the options that were available on 29 March 2019.
A no-deal exit is possibly the one option that many people are dreading. People are concerned about the long and short-term disruption that this exit route will cause. However, MPs in support of Brexit are of the view that things will not be as bad as projected and the UK can even save on the £39 billion divorce bill if they go with the no-deal exit route.
Although a no-deal exit is unattractive to many, there has been much talk of a second referendum. The question is will another vote will change much? Opinion polls conducted on UK citizens by NatCen Social Research highlight interesting answers to this question.
The results show that regardless of the recent increase in the number of people who disapprove of the way Theresa May has handled the Brexit process, the margin between those who want to stay and leave is still small. The fascinating bit, however, is the fact that the number of people who want to remain has stayed consistently higher since December 2018.
There is a significant number of people who are undecided on Brexit, but there is no denying that some people still want to leave regardless of the consequences. Some people are of the opinion that another referendum will undermine the UK’s democracy since the majority already voted to leave. The UK is in a big fix and a second referendum is as likely as it is unlikely.
Bracing ourselves for the next chapter
Brexit has not only been tough on the politicians, but it has hit citizens hard as well. The ongoing extensions are putting many people on edge. The UK has seen an increase in the number of people with mental health problems and there are fears that the delayed exit from the EU is contributing to this. The NHS Confederation’s Mental Health Network assessed that Brexit is especially traumatic for the 1.2 million UK citizens living in the EU and the 3.2 million EU citizens in the UK. The anxiety from waiting for a clear-cut way forward is becoming frustrating.
There are concerns over the ongoing migration of many businesses from the UK to the EU amidst fears of the high business risk the current situation in the UK poses. The UK economy is projected to underperform all Europe except Italy until 2020 because of Brexit. It is clear that the quality of life of many citizens is at stake.
Not only do people have to worry about business disruption, but there are also issues of possible disruptions in many areas including food and medication supply, travel, and trade policies. It is uncertain when Brexit will happen and people are starting to question if it will ever happen. At this time, there is still a lot of uncertainty and possible volatility for the sterling and its crucial that traders keep on top of developments and plan their trading accordingly.