Brexit Stage Left

Can we get the understudy to take over, please?

Photo credit: Michael Kirkham Photography
Brexit, (the exiting of Britain from the European Union), has dominated our social media feeds and news outlets for months now, but without a degree in politics all those figures and graphs can be a little hard to wrap your head around. I'm here to break down the facts, voice my opinion, and send groans through every affluent family in Britain as yet another Labour voter tries to outline why it's a bad idea. Put down the teacup and scone and listen up, Mr. and Mr.s Torysmith-Blossomthwaite, because that photo up there is exactly what Brexit has done: put our country straight in the bin. 

In summer of 2016, the British people voted "Leave" in the EU referendum by a majority of 51.9% — not exactly an overwhelming result, but enough to land us saying goodbye to the only governing body able to keep Satan and her demons in check.

Sorry, did I say Satan? I meant Theresa May. Easy mistake, though.

Wales also backed the "leave" vote (52.5%), while Scotland and Northern Ireland's people all seemed to have their heads screwed on right and voted "remain," (62% and 55.8% respectively). Unfortunately in Britain the voting turnout was only 71.8%, which may sound like a large number, but the 29% of people who abstained from the vote could have swung it in favour of remaining. Following the news in the days after the votes were talleyed, it came to light that a lot of these people did not vote because they "thought it wouldn't make a difference," which did irk me, but it's not entirely their fault — because a staggering amount of people who voted to leave came out to admit their vote was merely because they "fancied a change," not because they had done any research into what would happen if we left the EU. Those people, are idiots.

But, votes cannot be changed once they are cast, and we are officially Brexiting after both the Labour and Conservative parties agreeing (for once) that a second referendum would be a breach of trust with the people of the UK — in simple terms, they want the people to know that a vote does count, and that they aren't going to discount them just because of some public backlash. To me, this is bullshit. If you refuse to listen to your people when they're telling you they want a do-over, that is a breach of trust — our trust in our political leaders to run a fair democratic society. If each opinion voiced post-referendum counted as a vote, I'd wager we would be remaining — people have learned the true meaning of "leave" and want the chance to make a more informed decision. In my opinion, any vote — but particularly a vote this important — should require a basic understanding of the outcome of either vote. No one should be able to walk in to a voting booth and make an arbitrary decision for the sake of "something a bit different:" voters should be supplied a small pamphlet outlining the ways a vote will impact them and their lives prior to voting in order to make a decision based on fact, not opinion or whim. We can't force them to read it, and if they're loopy enough to tick a box just for the sake of it then more fool them, but if a short and factual info sheet came through the letterbox a week before the vote, I don't imagine anyone with common sense not taking five minutes to look it over at least.

However, as I said, we are Brexiting, so here's a simple outline of the Brexit process:

  1.  We vote to leave (duh).
  2.  Article 50, the short plan all EU countries have agreed upon for any EU country wishing to "quit" the EU is triggered — giving the "quitter" two years from the date of triggering to negotiate with the EU about the terms of the exit. Article 50 was triggered on March 29th 2017.
  3.  Theresa May's appointed government officials (spearheaded by UK Brexit Secretary David Davis) begin to negotiate with EU officials (lead by French diplomacy expert Michel Barnier) over things like trade, citizenship and outstanding bills. Full details on everyone involved in Brexit talks here.
  4.  The two year negotiation timeframe ends on March 29th 2019, however if agreements have not been reached the negotiations can continue, but only with the signed agreement of all 27 country members of the EU.
  5.  Once we are officially "divorced" from the EU, the Great Repeal Bill will be passed, which makes what are currently EU laws UK laws, giving parliament the time to make line-by-line changes to them with less cost to the government (both in terms of finances and resources).

That's how Brexit will work in terms of time and technicalities, but what does it mean for the people, and what effects has it already had on us?

Well, one benefit of EU membership is being part of the Single Market. The Single Market allows the free movement of not only goods, but money, services and people within the EU as if it were one country (without trade tariffs). In the Single Market you could accept a job in any EU country without the need for a work visa, for example. Exiting the EU does not have to result in exiting the Single Market — Norway is a member of it without being in the EU — but if both sides cannot come to an agreement that includes British Common Law requiring all goods being made to one similar technical standard, we may not be able to remain in the Single Market.

Michel Barnier has made the importance of keeping the integrity of the Single Market clear, so if British negotiators won't agree to keep the Single Market a "level playing field" with laws in place to ensure goods are produced to the same standard, we may be looking at losing that.

Financially speaking, Brexit could leave Britain out of pocket — without Britain's contributions to the EU budget, there will be a shortfall, and the remaining members of the EU would have to cover it, so naturally, the EU wants Britain's settlement costs to be as high as possible to make up for it. It goes without saying that Britain wants its settlement costs to be as low as possible, so this is already a point of contention between the two sides. If we end up giving a higher settlement amount to the EU in return for remaining in the Single Market, for example, this could result in higher taxes to pay for the settlement. Think of it as a divorce — the EU is the ex-wife who wants to take their ex-husband, (us), for all they've got — but it won't be coming out of our MP's pockets, it'll be coming out of your paycheck.

The British Pound is already being impacted by the referendum, as predicted by former PM David Cameron (who was campaigning to remain), with it slumping significantly the day after the vote and remaining 10% lower when compared to the US Dollar, and 15% compared to the Euro. What that means for the cash in your wallet though, is another story: Holidaymakers are finding their pounds are buying less euros and dollars, and imported goods such as clothes, food and homeware have risen in price...while other countries are able to buy our exported goods for cheaper, which reduces the amount of money we're bringing in as a nation from foreign trade. Even if the pound regains some of its value, currency experts are predicting it to have at least 10% less value than it did prior to the referendum.

An easier way to understand this is to imagine a trip to the corner shop. If the pound holds less value, more of it is required for payment, so purchasing everyday household essentials like bread, milk, and butter could result in you having to reach for a £5 note as opposed to a few £1 coins. I buy so much bread (I love toast) that I'll probably need a loan to get a months worth of toast once we've Brexited...

But I digress. As much as a nationwide financial crisis doesn't appeal to me, the elements of Brexit that both interest and concern me most are the ways in which people will be effected, both EU and UK citizens.

Currently, as I've mentioned, we have the ability to simply arrive in an EU country and open a business, just as foreign EU citizens can arrive in Britain and do the same. May has presented a 15-page proposal on EU citizens living and working in the UK that Barnier is not pleased with; responding by saying they should be given the same level of protection they have under current EU law and demanding more "clarity and ambition" from May.
The proposal outlines the following;

  • Any EU citizen having lived in the UK for five (or more) years can now apply for "Settled Status," giving them the right to live here permanently, claim benefits, and receive healthcare as they do now.
  • The cut-off date for Settled Status application is undecided (is it any wonder Barnier is clamouring for clarity?) but will be within the two-year negotiation timeframe.
  • Settled Status would allow the "settled" individual to bring over family members and spouses, who could apply for Settled Status immediately as a relative of a Settled person.
  • EU nationals currently living and working in the UK (but for less than five years) can continue to do so, and apply for Settled Status once they've been here for five years.
  • EU nationals arriving after the (still undetermined) cut-off point will be able to stay temporarily, and should have "no expectation" of being able to reside in the UK permanently.
  • The government may implement a period of "blanket residence status" to give them time to process the Settled Status applications — meaning EU citizens may be given the right to live here and then have it revoked.

If we had been clever enough to elect Labour in the 2017 general election, Jeremy Corbyn has stated that from day one of Labour being in power all EU citizens in the UK would be given the right to remain permanently. EU citizens who have already been here five years and been given the right to lifelong residency should not see their rights effected by the proposal. UK — meaning that hopefully, retirees living in Spain and UK nationals working in EU countries will be able to continue on with the same rights and access to free emergency healthcare, but it has not been agreed upon yet.

Another important part of Brexit negotiations is what will happen to the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland — with NI exiting the EU while RoI remains a member. The UK is pushing to keep a "soft-border," meaning no physical infrastructure such as customs posts, and wants small and medium sized businesses to be able to trade across the border without being forced to comply with any new customs tariffs — while bigger businesses would be subject to a potential mix of technological and physical checks to ensure they are complying.

So far, Brexit has resulted in uncertainty in the hearts of many, over where they will live, how much they will earn, and how much they'll be taxed to compensate for the UK's exit settlement... but the biggest problem with Brexit is that it has shown the current government for what it is: a collection of rich people making decisions on behalf of a country that isn't widely aware of the consequences of those decisions.

The very definition of a democratic government is one that goes with the choice of the people, but the government is barreling ahead with Brexit as though it is deaf to the cries of regret from "leave" voters and blind to the looks of dismay from the rest of us. Theresa May and her cabinet are nothing but petulant children, begging to be independent from the parent force of the EU, to the extent that they want to replace the EU's Human Rights Act with a "British Bill of Rights," the content of which remains questionable — why fix what isn't broken? I don't want to be at the mercy of human beings who do not understand the lives of the common people when it comes to my rights; and moreover, human rights should be just that — human rights. British people do not need nor want to have different rights thrust upon them while others are removed or repealed, and to imply Human Rights should not apply to the British people implies we are different to every other human on earth when it comes to our fundamental rights. We are not. We are all human, and I will live my life by the Human Rights Act, even if it is no longer legally applicable to me. I would rather be defined as Human than simply British, especially when being defined as British means being solely under Satan's — sorry, Theresa May's — rule. 

Check out more of Michael Kirkham's thought provoking photography work here

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SR James
SR James

Conservative-hating feminist who writes about pretty much whatever pops into her head. Big fan of dead trees with tattoos. Twitter @SRJWriter

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