After 1,317 days of flip-flops, division, and two general elections, the United Kingdom finally left the European Union (EU) at midnight on Friday in Brussels time. For some, it was a night of festivities aimed at rejoicing their newfound "independence" from Brussels. For others, it was a night of "sadness". However, Brexit Day doesn't mean that the UK gets a clean break from the EU yet.
Britain has entered a transition period in which it'll maintain and comply with several EU norms for the next 11 months. It'll be December 31, 2020, that Britain will kiss the EU a genuine goodbye. The transition period will allow London and Brussels to negotiate new arrangements to guide future relations. Throughout this time, the UK will lose political representation in all EU agencies like the EU Parliament but will remain part of the common market and follow EU customs law.
The UK had 73 Members of the European Parliament (MEP) who have now automatically lost their seats in the European Parliament. Prominent among the faces no longer in the European Parliament is Nigel Farage, the champion Brexiteer who successfully led the Brexit campaign. According to news agency AFP, among the seats left by the Brits, 46 will be kept for future EU members and 27 distributed among under-represented countries.
Britain no longer has to nominate a top official to the European Commission. Prime Minister Boris Johnson will no longer be invited to summits of the European Council of leaders, and ministers will no longer attend EU council meetings. Brits are no longer eligible for senior bureaucratic posts in Brussels, although junior-level employees may remain.
The UK will be paying the EU roughly £39 billion (that's over Rs 3.6 lakh crore) as part of its "divorce bill". Britain was the second-largest net contributor to EU coffers, just behind Germany and will remain so until the end of the transition.
After more than 30 years, the original blue passports of the UK will be making a return. The current burgundy design is exclusively meant for EU citizens. The new colour will be phased in over a number of months, with all new passports issued in blue by the middle of the year. Existing burgundy passports will continue to be valid.
Estimates say there are 1.2 million British citizens living in other EU countries while EU citizens number around 2.9 million in Britain. Under the withdrawal agreement signed by both sides, both sets of expatriates retain the rights they had before Brexit to work and reside in their host country. Although, Britons in Europe and EU citizens in the UK may have to register with the authorities and individual member states will set up procedures of their own.
Both populations will move freely across borders until the end of the transition. Thereafter, the withdrawal treaty says EU nationals will be able to stay in the UK if they continue to work. The UK government has said it intends to end "freedom of movement" for future EU arrivals, and precise details of reciprocal rights will be negotiated after Brexit.
Rising immigration from the EU, especially those from eastern member countries, were one of the issue Brexiteers raised to push their 'Leave' message. They contend uncontrolled immigration has overburdened UK's public welfare system.
Britain and the EU will continue to trade under existing norms of the EU common market without any extra charges or checks being introduced until the end of the transition period. Trade, however, is going to dominate headlines in London and Brussels in the coming months as both sides will have the onerous task of hammering out a trade deal before 2021 sets in.
Should Britain and the EU not sign a comprehensive trade deal, London will automatically switch to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules which govern international trade. Experts say this will be a shock to the global economy as both sides are economic powerhouses with integrated supply links. A switch to WTO rules means tariffs on the UK-EU border in Ireland, customs checks at airports, and a lot of paperwork for businesses.
PM Boris Johnson has planned to sign a free trade agreement with the EU in the coming months, something that takes years of painstaking negotiations. Entering 2021 without a UK-EU trade deal will be, what commentators say, the true "no-deal Brexit". London and Brussels will hence have to negotiate a good deal to prevent arduous disruption that can plunge already muted growth levels.
(With inputs from agencies) (Image credit: AP)