Welcome to British Isles Friday! British Isles Friday is a weekly event for sharing all things British and Irish — reviews, photos, opinions, trip reports, guides, links, resources, personal stories, interviews, and research posts. Join us each Friday to link your British and Irish themed content and to see what others have to share. The link list is at the bottom of this post. Pour a cup of tea or lift a pint and join our link party!
Last week, I reviewed a play that really moved me: Into the Breeches. Gaele reviewed A Way Back Home by Alison Sherlock and three holiday reads: Second Chances at the Log Fire Cabin by Catherine Ferguson, Watch for Me at Christmas by Kirsty Ferry, and Snowy Nights at the Lonely Hearts Hotel by Karen King.
I had a different post to write for today, reviewing some films I’ve seen recently. But there’s been all this Brexit news and I’m confused. So, I thought I’d figure that out and share as part of my occasional series explaining Brexit to Americans. Here’s what we’ve learned so far:
- The referendum to Leave or Remain
- The forms that Brexit might take
- Prime Minister May’s January 2017 speech on Brexit
- The court decision that said the Parliament gets to weigh in — Brexit isn’t the sole purview of the Prime Minister
- Article 50 that triggered the start of the two-year negotiation process in March 2017
- The snap election that PM May hoped would give her more legitimacy and leverage
- The disappointing results, from the PM’s viewpoint, that gave the DUP, a political party from Northern Ireland more power
- The difficult decisions to make about the border on the island of Ireland
Last week, a 585-page draft withdrawal agreement was finalized by the negotiators. Unfortunately, a number of British politicians didn’t like it, including the Brexit secretary who resigned from the cabinet.
The sticking point is what I mentioned in my most recent post about the border between Northern Ireland (part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (an independent country that is happily part of the EU). The withdrawal agreement includes language that guarantees a fairly open border, continuing something that has worked well for the past 20 years or so, since the end of the Troubles. That guarantee is called the “backstop” in the press. The backstop isn’t supposed to be needed — some other arrangement is to be made between now and the end of the transition period, December 31, 2020. But what if that doesn’t happen? The border between the two countries on the island of Ireland will be easier to cross than the border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. And, that situation might be permanent.
One of the more obvious ways to avoid that is to negotiate an easy flow of goods between all of the UK and the EU before the end of 2020. The UK would remain within the customs regime of the EU. Opposition politicians, like Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, say that could set up the worst of both worlds. The UK would be subject to the EU rules of commerce but would no longer have any say in the development of those rules. This, also, could be a permanent situation and isn’t what the people who supported Brexit seemed to want.
And, just in case that wasn’t enough complication, Spain has thrown in a wrench at the last moment. Gibraltar, on the tip of Spain at the Mediterranean Sea, has been under British control since 1713. Spain, however, still claims it. This was somewhat less of a bone of contention with open EU borders. Spain has threatened to veto the withdrawal agreement over this. Spain can’t derail the agreement on its own, but the EU was hoping for a unanimous vote at a summit on Sunday.
The UK parliament will weigh in on the deal early next month. It’s not at all clear that Prime Minister May has the votes to get this through.
If both the EU summit and the UK parliament accept the withdrawal agreement, it will still need to be ratified by the EU states. If the UK parliament rejects the current deal, things are more uncertain. Although, many politicians are pointing out that many things remain uncertain and yet to be decided during the transition period.
The single most useful site on Brexit that I’ve found is this information page on the BBC website. It’s updated frequently.