Please Locate the Brexit Nearest to You

Sarah Ouyang '22

On June 23, 2016, British polling stations welcomed a swarm of 46.5 million citizens who cast votes deciding on the fate of their country. Approximately 51.9% of the electorate demanded that the United Kingdom cut ties with the Union who had mothered it for forty-three years. [1]


Four years and four months later, the estrangement has yet to take effect.


British media, including The Telegraph and The Guardian, are thoroughly addled by the “logjam” that Brexit has become, a reputation further exacerbated by the government’s nontransparency — or rather, its confusing selection of publicly shared news. BBC News was left flabbergasted a few days ago as it reported the Prime Minister and the EU Chief skipping down Downing Street on October 3, having only just agreed that finding a favorable trade deal is “important.” [2


The final trade negotiations have dragged on long enough for many to have become frustrated with the lack of tangible progress. While officials have set October 15, 2020, as a deadline for themselves, disagreements over specific policies, such as fishing quotas and competition regulation, present obstacles to successful compromise.


The Fisheries Bill, for instance, has roused excitement among British fishermen, promising an independent coastal state upon leaving the EU. Foreign fishing boats would require special licenses in order to fish in UK waters, reducing competition for native fishers. (An amendment outlining the environmental objectives and sustainability goals of this policy has had an on-and-off appearance in the bill.) Legislators have faced strong resistance from EU officials, but British conservative leaders and environmentalists have warned them not to “surrender to the unacceptable demands of the European Union.” Without settling the fisheries debate, however, reaching a long-term, mutually satisfactory trade deal is both unlikely and time-consuming. [3]


Nor is this the only time the UK has dipped its toes in treacherous waters during the Brexit process. In September of this year, an Internal Market Bill made its painful way through the House of Commons; it was tremulously approved by a majority of 340 to 256 votes and introduces a new hurdle for negotiators on both sides. [4]


The bill aims to free the four home nations from commerce restrictions imposed by the EU context within which powers were devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in the 1990’s. In doing so, it potentially violates the Withdrawal Agreement by ensuring that “unfettered” trade with the UK can occur even in defiance of international laws. Such possibilities as “increased checks on the border with the Republic of Ireland” would breach previous agreements with the EU. [5]


Despite these obstacles, officials repeatedly stress the importance of reaching an acceptable trade deal with the EU before finalizing Brexit. These last minute trade agreements have the British finance sector perched on the edge of their seats, as the two paths presented by the precarious situation could decide the fate of the national economy. A “no-deal” Brexit would have harrowing economic impacts as the nation recovers from the COVID-19 pandemic. On the other hand, an eleventh-hour compromise would perform miracles for the economy, especially the stock market: it could raise the value of the pound and stimulate UK equities. [6]


Even as the rest of the world scrolls past Brexit headlines in their daily newsletters, wondering mildly how the separation can plod on for four years when the Jones next door took barely two weeks to finalize their divorce, massive economic factors are at stake within these final trade decisions. Guess we will just have to keep sipping our tea and holding our breaths.