The Story So Far
- 23 January 2013 – Former Prime Minister David Cameron expresses his support for an in/out referendum regarding the UK’s EU membership.
- 7 May 2015 – Cameron wins the general election with a manifesto promise to hold a referendum.
- 23 June 2016 – Referendum day. 51.9% vote leave and 48.1% vote remain. Cameron resigns immediately.
- 13 July 2016 – Theresa May replaces Cameron as PM.
- 29 March 2017 – The government invokes Article 50, beginning the UK’s withdrawal process from the EU.
- 8 June 2017 – After May’s surprise general election, she clings to power through a deal with the Irish DUP, which props up her minority government.
- 26 June 2017 – The EU and UK begin formal negotiations.
- 6 July 2017 – The Cabinet meets at May’s country retreat for 12 hours, producing the ‘Chequers’ plan.
- 9 July 2018 – David Davis resigns as Brexit secretary in reaction to Chequers, and others follow his lead.
- 31 October 2018 – Negotiations must be complete so that all involved countries may vote on the deal.
- 29 March 2019 – Brexit day. The UK withdraws from the EU at 11 pm and enters a transition period.
- 31 December 2019 – The transition period ends.
The Best Laid Plans
A look at what the UK government wants the final deal to look like, why nobody else likes it, and what this could mean for Brexit:
The ‘Chequers’ Plan
Theresa May’s ‘Chequers’ plan represents the UK government’s Brexit wish-list. The name Chequers refers to where the Cabinet agreed on the plan, at May’s country residence in Buckinghamshire. The plan’s formal name is, ‘The Future Relationship Between the United Kingdom and the European Union’.
Chequers aims at a ‘soft’ Brexit, meaning that the UK would retain a close relationship with the EU. The plan proposes the following:
- The UK would leave the single market and create a ‘common rulebook’ to allow for continued free trade between the UK and EU. While EU standards would continue to bind UK producers on goods (but not services), the UK would still be able to trade with the EU without restrictions.
- The UK would be allowed to effectively remain within the customs union through a newly created ‘combined customs territory’, intended to harmonise UK and EU trade rules.
- There would be an end to the freedom of movement between the UK and EU, although a new ‘mobility framework’ would allow citizens to travel between the two areas and apply to study and work.
What does the EU think of Chequers?
EU leaders rejected May’s plan at the Salzburg summit in September. They primarily dismissed it to preserve the integrity of the single market, arguing that the UK cannot effectively remain in the single market for goods but not services.
What are the other criticisms?
Many MPs in Theresa May’s own Conservative Party are critical of Chequers. The European Research Group of Hard Brexit, led by influential Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, called on May to ‘chuck Chequers’. There have also been claims that around 80 MPs are planning to vote against these proposals if the final deal includes them.
Could this mean a no-deal Brexit?
Neither the UK nor the EU wants a no-deal Brexit, which could be politically and economically devastating. Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, says that it would be the worst outcome for both parties, particularly the UK.
Preparations are already being made by all parties involved for things to run smoothly in the event of the UK and EU failing to reach a formal agreement. Nevertheless, if negotiations failed in the last instance, the UK could ‘crash out’ of the EU. The consequences of this are unclear. For example, EU nationals inside the UK and UK nationals in the EU could lose their right of residence, which would leave millions in a difficult position.
With that in mind, negotiators have until 31 October to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
The Question of the Irish Border
Northern Ireland has added an extra layer of complication to the negotiation process, as it is soon to become the UK’s only land border with the EU.
Goods, services, and people cross the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland every day without restriction, making it a ‘soft’ border.
May’s plan intends to avoid security and customs checkpoints (i.e., a ‘hard’ border) by introducing a new ‘combined customs territory’ and a ‘common rulebook’. However, this plan has now been rejected by the EU. In the event of a no-deal, a ‘backstop’ safety net would allow Northern Ireland to continue following EU customs rules, so a ‘soft’ border could remain.
A ‘hard’ border would undermine the Good Friday Agreement, which has proven vital for peace in Ireland since 1998.
Customs Union: All countries in the union charge the same import duties on imported goods and services.
Single Market: A group of countries trading with each other without restrictions or tariffs. The European single market came into effect on 1 January 1993. It harmonises rules on issues from working hours to climate change.
FRANCES EVERETT, BA INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS AND DEVELOPMENT STUDIES