After nearly three years of discussion, protests and resignations from prime ministers, the United Kingdom (UK) left the European Union (EU) on Jan. 31, at 11 p.m. The event was marked by a Downing Street party hosted by Prime Minister Borris Johnson complete with a ministerial address, countdown clock and a light show. Smaller parties were also held throughout the country. The celebrations were accompanied by minor protests while, in Scotland, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon renewed vows to consider Scottish independence. Johnson, however, remained optimistic. “The most important thing to say tonight is that this is not an end but a beginning,” he stated in the ministerial address on the night of Brexit, “This is the moment when the dawn breaks and the curtain goes up on a new act. It is a moment of real national renewal and change.” Besides the celebrations, however, Brexit was completed without much notice or fanfare on a global scale.
The day marked the cessation of Article 50 and the beginning of 11-month negotiations with the European Union, in which Britain will work on trade deals and sort out the details of its new international relationships. The country will have to work out the terms of these relationships and the legal framework of the departure, especially surrounding fishing rights, financial services, Northern Ireland border laws, data protection and EU law enforcement jurisdiction.
Already, the differing interests of the UK and the EU are apparent. In a post-Brexit presentation, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that the EU was prepared to consider a “highly ambitious” zero-tariffs and zero quotes deal with Britain if the country agreed to strict rules about trade. In a rival speech minutes later, Borris refuted the offer and its stipulation, saying “the question is whether we agree to a trading relationship with the EU comparable to Canada’s or more like Australia’s.” According to Oscar Williams-Grut, a senior correspondent at Finance UK, Canada’s relationship with the United Kingdom is a “zero-tariffs, zero quotas but only on goods,” while Australia’s is based on the World Trade Organization’s terms with tariffs “at an average rate of 5.1%.” Johnson said in the speech that “In either case, I have no doubt that Britain will prosper mightily.” However, negotiations have only just begun and will continue throughout 2020.
Despite these political and economic changes, life for the average British citizen has changed other than a new passport color from blue to purple and a new commemorative coin. The three million EU citizens living in the UK will receive “settled status” if they have been living in the country for over five years, according to the UK government’s established policy, and the economic impacts have been low compared with predictions,according to Bloomberg. Overall, the UK’s departure from the European Union is only the beginning of a year-long negotiation process. Since the UK has left the European Union, the United Kingdom’s role on the global stage is now an open question.