Explainer: What’s Brexit and what’re the options on the table

Opinion within the UK over the possible path that Britain should follow on the Brexit has been divided, reflective of the close margin of the referendum that took place in June 2016


Dhairya Maheshwari

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May has appealed to MPs across party lines to work out a Brexit deal by putting their self-interests aside, after surviving a close scare on the no-confidence vote, that had been tabled by Leader of Opposition, Labour Party’s leader Jeremy Corbyn.

The May-led Tory government on Wednesday won the no-confidence vote by a narrow margin of 325-306, a day after her Brexit plan suffered a major political defeat in the House of Commons. May’s deal was comprehensively defeated in United Kingdom’s lower house by 432-202, the largest defeat for a sitting government in country’s history.

May’s government, with the backing of its ally Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has a strength of 327 in the 650-member house. Her defeat means that some members of her own party voted against the government’s Brexit deal, which took almost two years to be negotiated.

What happened after the Brexit vote?

Almost two years in the making, the need for the deal was triggered after a UK-wide referendum on June 23, 2016, in which the voters were asked to decide on UK’s future with the European Union. More than three crore voters took part in the referendum, with backers of Leave prevailing over Britons wanting to continue to stay within the EU by a 51.9-48.1 per cent margin.

May invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, required to formally trigger the Brexit process, on March 29, 2017, following the Brexit vote the year before. Once Article 50 was invoked, both the UK and EU were given two years to formalise the terms of the Brexit, which means that the UK must exit the EU on or before March 29, 2019.

While a European court has mandated that the UK can opt out of the Brexit process, May has reportedly formalised the date, March 29, 2019, in the British law. Further, the court has ordered that the time frame of the Brexit may be extended, should all 28 EU members provide their consent to it.

What is a “hard Brexit?”

Opinion within the UK over the possible path that Britain should follow on the Brexit has been divided, reflective of the close margin of the referendum that took place in June 2016. Favoured by diehard Brexit voters, a “hard Brexit” approach would see the UK going back to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules in its economic dealings with other EU members.

If followed, “hard Brexit” will mean that UK would have complete control over its borders and its laws, without any bearings of the EU law whatsoever.

Additional tariffs on exported British goods and services, if it takes the hard Brexit route, is, however a major pitfall. Sectors such as car-making and agriculture are envisioned as major losers of the proposed policy, even as voices from within the EU have said that a “hard Brexit” would propel Britain to the status of a “major trading nation,” in itself, as it was a founding member of the WTO.

What is a “soft Brexit?”

A large section of Britons, many of them residing in Scotland and Northern Ireland, want EU to retain some of its connections to the EU.

As per contours of the “soft Brexit” blueprint, the UK would continue to have unhindered access to the EU market, even as it would no longer remain an EU member and won’t have a seat on the EU Council. Further, Britain would lose its European Commissioner and 73 Member of European Parliaments (MEPs).

Over the past few months, the issue of “soft Brexit” has become a political hot potato in UK politics, with Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said to be backing the position in principal, so that the EU could enjoy the benefits of staying with the European Economic Union (EEU).

However, even Corbyn, like his counterparts in the ruling Tory Party, is believed to be opposed to unfettered immigration from the EU partner countries, a major sticking point keeping the soft Brexit from being vigorously pursued.

What are European leaders saying?

Britain would be the “biggest loser” if they opt out of the European Union without a deal, French President Emmanuel Macron said, reacting to the defeat of May’s Brexit plan in the UK Parliament on Tuesday.

However, the French leader added that no more concessions might be extended to Britain over what the EU has already done even in case of Brexit deal. “…we won’t, just to solve Britain’s domestic political issues, stop defending European interests,” said Macron.

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, another European heavyweight, however, has May’s hopes of a renegotiated deal in the wake of May’s disastrous defeat.

”For me, it is clear that there cannot be any renegotiations,” Merkel is said to have told a German parliamentary committee.

Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, has made a veiled pitch for the Britain to remain within the EU. “If a deal is impossible, and no one wants no deal, then who will finally have the courage to say what the only positive solution is?” Tusk questioned on Twitter on Wednesday.

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