Series 1 Back to Brexit Basics - Going back to the very beginning – the vote

Jul 03, 2018

In the first in our new series of getting back to the basics of Brexit, we examine how the vote to leave the EU came to pass in the first instance. 

The UK people historically voted to leave the EU by referendum on 23 June 2016.  Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, the mechanism by which the UK must leave the EU was triggered on 30 March 2017 and gave the UK two years to leave. This means the leaving date has been set as 29 March 2019.

What is Brexit?

It’s a merge of the words Britain and exit.  The term can also be found in the Oxford dictionary where it is defined as “the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.” 

How did each part of the UK vote?

The UK voted by a majority of 51.9 percent to 48.1 percent to leave the EU.  More than 30 million voted in total representing 72 percent of the population.   England and Wales voted to leave the EU with 53 percent and 52 percent of the votes respectively.  Scotland backed to remain in the EU with 62 percent of the vote and 56 percent of Northern Ireland voted to remain.

Why was there a vote?

Since the economic recession of 2008 and the crisis in Greece, the UK people have questioned the benefits of remaining in the EU particularly when the UK economy remained relatively robust.   Record levels of EU immigration into the UK and increasing EU regulation were also factors for the growing anti-EU sentiment. 

What were seen as anti-European parties enjoyed a rise in popularity in the UK in 2012 and backbenchers demanded that the then Prime Minister David Cameron announce an EU referendum to help fend off the anti-EU challenge.  In 2013, Mr Cameron said that he would hold a referendum on EU membership if the Conservative party won the 2015 election.  Which they did and here we are. 

What was the UK Government’s position at the time of the vote?

Before the referendum vote, Mr Cameron voiced support of the UK remaining in the EU by saying “The choice is in your hands but my recommendation is clear: I believe Britain will be safer, stronger and better off in a reformed Europe”.  

The UK voted to leave and Mr Cameron resigned and was replaced by the now Prime Minister Theresa May.  Theresa May was against Brexit during the referendum campaign but now says it’s what the British people want.

Why call a snap election?

What might have come as a surprise to most, Theresa May called an election for 8 June last year.  She reportedly felt that the opposition parties would try to block her Brexit strategy and wanted to show a united front. However, the result of the election didn’t go to plan. The vote failed to give the Conservatives an overall majority in parliament so Theresa May went into government with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party. 

What’s been happening in the Brexit talks?

Brexit talks started in Brussels on 19 June 2017 and there have been several rounds of negotiations so far.  Teams from the EU and the UK meet for around one week at a time.  The timetable for the talks has two phases. 

The aim of phase one was to reach agreement on the rights of citizens, the financial settlement the UK will need to pay on leaving the EU as well as the border in Northern Ireland. While it was hoped last October that the talks could move onto phase two where the future trade relationship would be discussed, this was delayed until December where some progress was reported. 

At the moment, talks continue but have not moved on to the future trade relationship (phase two).  The UK have agreed that a hard border must be avoided on the island of Ireland but have not put forward clear enough proposals as to how this would occur. Discussions are also taking place on the transition period which is a grace period for businesses and people to transition to Brexit.  This is conditional on a Brexit treaty being signed however. So if no deal is reached, there will be no transition period.

The EU wants to reach an agreement on trade by October 2018 which will give six months to legislate for this agreement. All eyes are on Brussels as the clock ticks.