Four years after the start of the “Brexit” (British Exit) initiative the United Kingdom has finally left the European Union (EU). The United Kingdom has been a part of the EU since 1973, so what does this mean for the future of Europe and the United Kingdom?
What is the European Union?
The European Union is a group consisting of 28 countries in Europe that, for the most part, share a common currency, common policy and a central headquarters in Brussels, Belgium. The European Union is not the only factor in this situation, as it also consists of the European Economic Area (EEA) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which adds six countries (Iceland, Norway, Switzerland, San Marino, Monaco and Liechtenstein) to the equation that have not opted to join the EU. Citizens of EU/EEA/EFTA countries are allowed to travel freely throughout the EU, including the United Kingdom.
Immigration crisis and the UK
The United Kingdom, having been in the European Union since the transition from the EEC to the EU has carried many of the same policies of the EU, besides the opt-out of the Schengen Agreement, according to gov.uk. Due to a large amount of migration and such a small country, there are extra steps taken when migrating the the UK even though EU citizens can still live, work and study freely in the United Kingdom. Registration with the Home Office, the main office for Immigration, is one of these steps, but EU citizens have typically been able to move to the UK with no issue.
Problems started to arise when the Syrian refugee crisis started in 2015, and more people were trying to make it through the Schengen area countries and reach the UK without any official status and claim asylum. Whether it be usage of a false EU member country passport, human trafficking or hiding in semi trucks, the UK was, and still is, in crisis. Apart from an added number of asylum claimants, there are also more people arriving from other EU countries, typically coming from Eastern Europe to the UK to work in a better economy.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), there are approximately 160,000 people living in the UK with established or pending asylum cases. While there are a handful of people living in the UK as refugees with Syrian citizenship, a large number of people coming from Iraq, Iran, Eritrea, Albania, Pakistan and Afghanistan currently claim or are in the process of claiming asylum in the UK, according to the UNHCR. A majority of people claiming refugee status in the UK travel through illegal means.
The hardest hit place in the UK is the port city of Dover, which has a route bringing trucks of material goods, including food, textiles and products from Calais, France in mainland Europe to the UK. Calais is known for hosting one of the largest makeshift refugee camps in the European Union, consisting of tents housing people from many countries, who often made it into the EU through false passports or human trafficking. The refugee crisis is stretching the resources thin in the UK, and with an ever growing population of students, workers and live births, the government does not have as much room as they used to for new people, with it now being notoriously difficult to attain a visa to the UK. Asylum seekers in the United Kingdom receive an average amount of 5.39 pound sterling (~7.01 USD) per day and are accommodated in “section 95” housing, where an estimated 42,000 current asylum claimants live, with the largest population being in the northeast of England according to the University of Oxford Migration Observatory.
The United Kingdom held a referendum on June 23, 2016, deciding whether the country were to remain in the EU or leave upon approval from parliament. It had been decided, in a 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent vote that the UK would, in fact, leave the EU.
The Brexit movement was started by former Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, and carried on through the leadership of Theresa May, and current Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Cameron resigned the following day not wanting to be the leader of the movement any longer. Conservative party leadership elections were held the following October, with Theresa May, former secretary of the Home Office, now leading the country through Brexit.
May, whose Brexit agreements were rejected by the House of Commons twice, faced harsh criticism from opposition parliament members, including Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn, like other Labour party members, strongly disapproved of Brexit. After the failure of two exit plans, May decided to step down as Prime Minister, citing that her failure to deliver Brexit was a driving force of her decision, according the the BBC.
The Conservative party elected the American-born former Mayor of London, Boris Johnson to be the new Prime Minister of the UK. After getting into office, it was Johnson’s goal to leave the EU by Oct. 31, 2019, which again, like May, failed. Following this, Johnson called for a general election to be held throughout the UK, which was ultimately held on Dec. 12, and would decide whether the UK were to leave the EU by the new proposed date of Jan. 31, 2020. The election went in favour of the ruling Conservative party, with 48 Conservative seats in parliament being won and 60 Labour party seats being lost in total, which gave the Conservative party a now majority government and a guaranteed exit from the EU by their target date.
Future of the United Kingdom and the European Union
For EU/EEA/EFTA nationals living in the United Kingdom, they are allowed to apply for a settlement scheme set up by the British government in order to gain indefinite leave to remain, or permanent residency, in the UK.
British citizens living abroad in the European Union must apply for residency in their respective country of residence, with many British citizens loyal to EU membership flocking to France and applying for residence and eventually citizenship to retain their membership in the EU.
The United Kingdom will no longer enjoy the same trade benefits it previously has, and will have to form new trade deals with countries they benefited from that the EU had treaties with, and overall could negatively impact the economy of the UK, according to a research group known as “The UK in a Changing Europe” at King’s College, London.
British citizens will still be able to travel to Europe, but will require passport stamps and registration with the new and upcoming ETIAS, or European Union Travel Information and Authorisation System. Citizens of EU countries, depending on which country, will still be able to enter the United Kingdom on their current visa issuance regime.
This is still a developing situation, even after the final Brexit bill was passed. Keep up with social media and international media to stay informed.