It is a word that has become used as a shorthand way of saying the UK leaving the EU – merging the words Britain and exit to get Brexit, in a same way as a possible Greek exit from the euro was dubbed Grexit in the past.
A referendum – a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part – was held on Thursday 23 June, to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union. Leave won by 52% to 48%. The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting.
England voted for Brexit, by 53.4% to 46.6%, as did Wales, with Leave getting 52.5% of the vote and Remain 47.5%. Scotland and Northern Ireland both backed staying in the EU. Scotland backed Remain by 62% to 38%, while 55.8% in Northern Ireland voted Remain and 44.2% Leave. See the results in more detail.
Britain got a new Prime Minister – Theresa May. The former home secretary took over from David Cameron, who resigned on the day after losing the referendum. Like Mr Cameron, Mrs May was against Britain leaving the EU but she says she will respect the will of the people. She has said “Brexit means Brexit” but there is still a lot of debate about what that will mean in practice especially on the two key issues of how British firms do business in the European Union and what curbs are brought in on the rights of European Union nationals to live and work in the UK. She set out more details of her negotiating hopes in her key speech on Brexit.
The UK has invoked an agreement called Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which gives the two sides two years to agree the terms of the split. Theresa May triggered this process at the end of March 2017, meaning the UK will be expected to have left by the summer of 2019, depending on the precise timetable agreed during the negotiations. The government will also enact a Great Repeal Bill which will end the primacy of EU law in the UK. It is expected to incorporate all EU legislation into UK law in one lump, after which the government will decide over a period of time which parts to keep, change or remove.
Theresa May set up a government department, headed by veteran Conservative MP and Leave campaigner David Davis, to take responsibility for Brexit. Former defence secretary, Liam Fox, who also campaigned to leave the EU, was given the new job of international trade secretary and Boris Johnson, who was a leader of the official Leave campaign, is foreign secretary. These men – dubbed the Three Brexiteers – will play a central role in negotiations with the EU and seek out new international agreements, although it will be Mrs May, as prime minister, who will have the final say. The government did not do any emergency planning for Brexit ahead of the referendum and Mrs May has rejected calls to say what her negotiating goals are.
The UK has two years to negotiate its withdrawal. But no one really knows how the Brexit process will work – Article 50 was only created in late 2009 and it has never been used. Former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, now Chancellor, wanted Britain to remain in the EU, and he has suggested it could take up to six years for the UK to complete exit negotiations. The terms of Britain’s exit will have to be agreed by 27 national parliaments, a process which could take some years, he has argued.
EU law still stands in the UK until it ceases being a member. The UK will continue to abide by EU treaties and laws, but not take part in any decision-making.
Unpicking 43 years of treaties and agreements covering thousands of different subjects was never going to be a straightforward task. It is further complicated by the fact that it has never been done before and negotiators will, to some extent, be making it up as they go along. The post-Brexit trade deal is likely to be the most complex part of the negotiation because it needs the unanimous approval of more than 30 national and regional parliaments across Europe, some of whom may want to hold referendums.
Following Theresa May’s Brexit recent speech we now know that the UK is not intending to stay in the EU’s single market. Although there has been speculation for months about the issue, it would have meant the UK staying under the auspices of the European Court of Justice and having to allow unlimited EU immigration, under freedom of movement rules.
Both sides want trade to continue after Brexit with the UK seeking a positive outcome for those who wish to trade goods and services” – such as those in the City of London and wanting a “comprehensive free trade deal” giving the UK “the greatest possible access” to the single market. Mrs May says she wants the UK to reach a new customs union deal with the EU. A customs union is where countries agree not to impose tariffs on each others’ goods and have a common tariff on goods coming in from elsewhere. The UK is currently part of the EU customs union but that stops the UK being able to do its own trade deals with other countries. Reality Check: How could customs union work?
These terms have increasingly been used as debate focused on the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU. There is no strict definition of either, but they are used to refer to the closeness of the UK’s relationship with the EU post-Brexit.
So at one extreme, “hard” Brexit could involve the UK refusing to compromise on issues like the free movement of people in order to maintain access to the EU single market. At the other end of the scale, a “soft” Brexit might follow a similar path to Norway, which is a member of the single market and has to accept the free movement of people as a result.
The government has declined to give a firm guarantee about the status of EU nationals currently living in the UK, saying this is not possible without a reciprocal pledge from other EU members about the millions of British nationals living on the continent. EU nationals with a right to permanent residence, which is granted after they have lived in the UK for five years, will be be able to stay, the chief civil servant at the Home Office has said. The rights of other EU nationals would be subject to negotiations on Brexit and the “will of Parliament”, he added.
A lot depends on the kind of deal the UK agrees with the EU. If it remains within the single market, it would almost certainly retain free movement rights, allowing UK citizens to work in the EU and vice versa. If the government opted to impose work permit restrictions, then other countries could reciprocate, meaning Britons would have to apply for visas to work.
Again, it depends on whether the UK government decides to introduce a work permit system of the kind that currently applies to non-EU citizens, limiting entry to skilled workers in professions where there are shortages. Citizens’ Advice has reminded people their rights have not changed yet and asked anyone to contact them if they think they have been discriminated against following the Leave vote.
Brexit Secretary David Davis has suggested EU migrants who come to the UK as Brexit nears may not be given the right to stay. He has said there might have to be a cut-off point if there was a “surge” in new arrivals.
People travelling overseas from the UK have found their pounds are buying fewer euros or dollars after the Brexit vote.
The day-to-day spending impact is likely to be more significant. Even if the pound regains some of its value, currency experts expect it to remain at least 10% below where it was on 23 June, in the long term.
This means imported goods will consequently get more expensive – some price rises for food, clothing and homeware goods have already been seen and the issue was most notably illustrated by the dispute between Tesco and Marmite’s makers about whether prices would be put up or not in the stores.
The latest UK inflation figures, for December, showed the CPI inflation rate jumping to 1.6%, its highest level for two years with signs of more cost pressures set to feed through in the months to come.
Prime Minister Theresa May has said one of the main messages she has taken from the Leave vote is that the British people want to see a reduction in immigration.
She has said this will be a focus of Brexit negotiations. As mentioned above, the key issue is whether other EU nations will grant the UK access to the single market, if that is what it wants, while at the same time being allowed to restrict the rights of EU citizens to live and work in the UK.
Mrs May has said she remains committed to getting net migration – the difference between the numbers entering and leaving the country – down to a “sustainable” level, which she defines as being below 100,000 a year. It is currently running at 330,000 a year, of which 184,000 are EU citizens, and 188,000 are from outside the EU – the figures include a 39,000 outflow of UK citizens.