What's a Brexit? On one hand, it’s easy: It’s the slang term for the British exit from the European Union. But, on other hand, nobody really knows. And for sure, as of today, nobody knows how to “do it.”
We four tourists were fortuitously in London at the supposed close of the British Effort to leave the European Union (EU), Brexit, in March of 2019. The United Kingdom (UK: England, Scotland and Northern Ireland) joined the then-European Community (EC) in 1973, after the retirement of Charles de Gaulle of France, who had blocked the UK entry.
Once accomplished, there was almost immediate UK debate and argument about the EC entry action of conservative leader Edward Heath, then the British prime minister. Arguments against the UK staying in the EC/EU included general distaste for rule from Brussels or Strasbourg, fear of German dominance in EU politics, EU immigration policies, concerns about the border between the Irish Republic and Northern Ireland and the economic problems of the Mediterranean EU countries.
After many years of political ups and downs, the UK held a general referendum on June 22-23, 2016, and voted 51.89 percent in favor of leaving the EU (American observers had predicted only a two-point spread). The Conservative Party – led by Theresa May, after David Cameron’s resignation, but not always with a majority in Parliament – began to negotiate the UK withdrawal from the EU in a series of “rounds” to arrive at a final European Union Withdrawal Act that was approved by Parliament in June 2018.
The real trouble began when final details of the Exit Deal with the EU were presented in January 2019 and defeated in a lopsided British Parliament, House of Commons, vote. The prime minister survived a “no-confidence” vote. There were several sticking points: trade and commerce agreements (whose regulations would prevail: EU or UK?); financial reparations; travel and immigration; money exchange and finance; overreaching authority; and the boundary between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (open or closed?).
In the background were also Brexit political divisions within both of the two major UK political parties (Tory and Labor) and Brexit policy differences between Scotland and England.
We witnessed the second rejection of the prime minister’s reworked exit agreement deal with the EU, then the rejection of a straight-out exit from the EU without any mutual agreements and finally the endorsement of at least a 90-day extension of the originally legislated March 29, 2019, exit date. Another “Deal vote” is imminent, but its timing is in doubt, as the House of Commons speaker has ruled the new Deal cannot be like the previous one. A new vote was scheduled in June, but Prime Minister May stepped down on June 7. The end date now is Oct. 31 , 2019.
We walked or rode in the vicinity of Parliament Square and Whitehall with its many famous statues and government buildings, witnessing orderly protesters on both sides of the issue, waving flags and slogan banners. Several times we maneuvered around members of Parliament, awaiting entry to debate or vote.
Most local economists felt the UK should stay in the EU, but for sure, should certainly not leave without a “deal.” All of our black cab drivers made passionate Brexit speeches; the Uber drivers kept quiet.
Important history is in the making!