With only two days to go until the Government triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and informs the European Union of Britain’s departure, it is only appropriate that we summarise the events leading up since the Brexit vote last June.
It all started with a referendum, one that would settle one of the most dividing issues in the UK in 2016, membership of the European Union. Leading the remain side was then Prime Minister David Cameron, and leading the leave camp was Boris Johnson. The referendum put the two old etonian pals head to head for the future of the country. It didn’t take long for the campaign to turn ugly, with personal attacks being used by both sides of the campaign, and it also brought about the campaign tactics of Project Fear and Project Hate.
On the day of the vote, 23rd June 2016, the country took to the polls to make one of the biggest political decisions of the 21st Century. On the 24th the result was in, and we were out. Britain had voted to leave the European Union. By the end of a bitter and divisive campaign the country had spoken. PM and Remain leader David Cameron decided that he had to resign, as he felt that he could not lead the country due to his stance in the referendum. Of course, all eyes turned to Boris Johnson, who had been rumoured to have interest in a job in 10 Downing Street. But after fellow leave campaigner Michael Gove announced his bid for Conservative Party leadership, Johnson stood down and said that he would not be standing as a candidate in the leadership election.
The next step of our Brexit story takes us inside the Conservatives, a party where Europe has always been a dividing issue. After Cameron’s resignation the party needed a new leader, and the country needed a new Prime Minister. Those in the running were Michael Gove, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox, Stephen Crabb, and Theresa May. After a short election of just 6 days, former Home Secretary Theresa May became the new Conservative leader and the new Prime Minister. Prime Minister May quickly formed her new cabinet. Whilst she relegated faces from the Cameron era such as George Osborne and Michael Gove to the Tory backbenches, she appointed Amber Rudd to the role of Home Secretary and Phillip Hammond replaced Osborne as Chancellor of the Exchequer. However these were not the highlights of May’s cabinet, the media were focused on what were known as the Brexit appointments. May formed the roles of Secretary of State for exiting the European Union who she chose to be David Davis (who campaigned for Brexit) and Liam Fox became the Secretary of State for International Trade and much to the surprise of just about everybody the role of Foreign Secretary was given to… Boris Johnson. The new cabinet would be responsible for carrying out the work of May’s Government, and a large part of that would be Brexit.
We now move across to the Opposition benches to the Labour party, where Shadow-Cabinet resignations prompted a vote of no confidence in Jeremy Corbyn, which MPs claimed was due to his performance in the EU Referendum. This triggered a Labour leadership election between Corbyn and Owen Smith. The result of this was expected as Corbyn secured the party leadership again by a significant majority. Corbyn’s victory led to criticisms for MPs who opposed him, as their lack of support for the leader took attention away from the Government and their Brexit activities.
Now that the leadership contests were settled and the cabinets in place. Back to Brexit. A major criticism of the Conservative Party and David Cameron is that during the referendum they failed to prepare a plan in the event of a leave vote (Basically Cameron was cocky and overconfident) and this meant that the new Government had to devise a plan from scratch, and it’s safe to say that they weren’t very good at hiding their lack of progress in this area. As the opposition and the public wait to hear what the Government’s plan was, the Prime Minister gave us a vague response to what the Government was doing in the Brexit department;
“Brexit means Brexit.”
This was obviously used as a stop gap by the Prime Minister, who had refused to give details about the Government’s plan. It is safe to say that most people saw through the Brexit means Brexit moment to see that the Government didn’t have much of a plan for exiting the EU, they were no further along in planning the country’s future than they were in June, is what some interpreted May’s saying as. The vague nature of the Government’s plans and the fact that they were keeping their cards close to their chest and letting nobody know about what they were up to led to speculation by the media and the public, and it produced two new sayings, Hard Brexit and Soft Brexit. Soft Brexit was the term used to describe a deal with the EU that involved remaining in the single market, and Hard Brexit would take Britain out of the single market. Although the Prime Minister has dismissed the use of these terms, they have remained prominent throughout political events.
Theresa May then decided to clarify what type of brexit Britain was pursuing even further, but it was just as vague as the last clue she left us. Apparently the UK was going to pursue a;
“Red, white and blue Brexit”
This really didn’t clarify what has been going on within the Government, although it did suggest that the PM was attempting to please the Eurosceptics of the country by attempting to suggest that Britain would get a deal unique to Britain. But even after this still nobody knew what the Government’s plan of action was.
The next chapter of our Brexit saga takes us to the judiciary, and the debate surrounding who should trigger Brexit. The Government wanted the decision to be made by Government ministers, and others wanted Article 50 to be triggered by an act of parliament. Both the High Court and the Supreme Court ruled that Article 50 had to be triggered by an act of parliament, and MPs would get a vote on Brexit.
And then it finally arrived! A clear message about what the Government were going to do and what their Brexit plan looks like. Theresa May announced that Brexit would take Britain out of the single market… It was a Hard Brexit. Many Eurosceptics celebrated this although it did not go down well with remain supporting parties such as the Liberal Democrats and the SNP.
Now, back to the Labour Party. When it came to the Government’s Brexit Bill, the party imposed a whip on his MPs to support the Government’s bill. Allowing it to easily pass parliament and go to the Lords. It caused remain supporting Labour MPs to criticise Corbyn for the lack of opposition and scrutiny. The Government encountered their next problem in the House of Lords, who rejected the Government’s bill and sent it back to the Commons, as they disagreed with the Government’s lack of protections for EU citizens living in the UK. Eventually the Lords passed the bill and it was given royal assent. Giving Theresa May the go ahead to take Britain out of the European Union.
We now go to the North, no not the dales, north of the border to Scotland. Where 62% voted to remain in the EU. Due to this there have been tensions between the Conservative Government in London and the SNP Government in Edinburgh. What the majority thought would happen was confirmed when First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for a second referendum on Scottish Independence, after the difference between Scotland’s vote and the rest of the UK. May responded by accusing the SNP of playing politics and that “now is not the time” for a referendum. Unionist party leaders in Scotland such as Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservatives suggested that the majority of people in Scotland don’t want another referendum, and Scottish Labour Leader Kezia Dugdale accused the SNP of only caring about one priority, and neglected Scotland’s public services such as education and health. On Tuesday 28th March the Scottish Parliament at Holyrood voted in support of a second referendum by 69 to 59.
Well that’s the story of Brexit so far, and it’s not finished yet. Over the next few years we will see more developments on the events that you have just read, and more events in relation to this. Theresa May will inform Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, on Wednesday 29th March of Britain’s departure of the EU, and trigger Article 50. This will start the negotiation process, and play a crucial role in deciding the country’s future.