Brexit, For Real

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson campaigning for Brexit, October 2019

Brexit—Britain’s exit from the European Union (EU)—will finally kick off on January 31. The outcome of the United Kingdom (UK) splitting from the EU remains uncertain, but the seemingly endless pregame show is over. On December 12, the UK held a parliamentary general election. The Conservative, or Tory, Party, led by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, won a decisive victory, gaining an 80-seat majority in Parliament. The vote was essentially a “second referendum” on Brexit. In the first referendum, which took place in June 2016, the British people voted by a small but clear margin for the UK to leave the EU. The original date set for the UK’s departure was March 2017.

That deadline and then others came and went as Brexit was delayed due to drawn-out negotiations with the EU over the terms by which the UK would separate—and wrangling especially within Parliament itself. Some Britons favored leaving without any deal whatsoever. For more than three and a half years, Britain’s political class proved unable or unwilling to follow through on the vote of the people taken in mid-2016. The resulting voter dissatisfaction set the stage for Johnson’s successful “Get Brexit Done” campaign.

In victory, Prime Minister Boris Johnson declared that the result “gives us . . . the chance to respect the democratic will of the British people.” As a result of Britain’s third general election in less than five years, Johnson will have a solid majority for a five-year term. However, the former mayor of London, a stalwart Brexiteer from the beginning, promised voters he would pursue a centrist agenda. Although the Tories routed the British Labour Party, Tory leaders realize they were helped by many voters who don’t ordinarily vote for Conservatives or their policies.

The Brexit process should keep Johnson and co. busy. After January 31, the UK will no longer have any voting rights in the EU. It will remain tethered as part of the EU single market and customs union through the end of 2020. UK-EU negotiations on trade will continue during this transition period. Other issues to be resolved with the EU include aviation standards, electricity supplies, medicine regulations, and security and data sharing. A trade deal between the United States and Britain will likely follow. Nothing much will change immediately for British businesses and citizens—beyond a sense of relief that the country can now move on.

Image credit: © Ben Stansall/AFP via Getty Images

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