One year has passed since Britain held a referendum on its membership of the European Union, and voted to leave the EU. On the 23rd June 2016 the ballots opened in the EU Referendum, and by the 24th June, 52% of those who turned out voted to leave the European Union.
Since the referendum and the vote to leave last year a lot has happened in British politics, a new Prime Minister, and a General Election, to name a few.
The Brexit vote had an immediate impact on British politics, with the resignation of Prime Minister David Cameron, and the beginning of the Conservative leadership contest. Cameron called the referendum and was seen as the main campaigner for a Remain vote. His resignation speech acknowledged that he felt that he could not run the country due to his stance on the issue of EU membership. Cameron was criticised as it looked as if the Government had failed to plan for the event of a Leave vote, and had left the country unprepared for Brexit. The process of the Conservative leadership contest saw Theresa May, the Home Secretary, become the UK’s next Prime Minister, after every other candidate for the Conservative leadership dropped out.
Furthermore the referendum result had an almost immediate impact on the Labour Party. The Shadow-Cabinet staged a coup against leader Jeremy Corbyn and he was faced with a Vote of No Confidence in his leadership from Parliamentary MPs, which he lost, and a Labour leadership election was triggered. It was said that the coup and No Confidence vote was a result of Corbyn’s performance in the EU Referendum, and how Labour MPs felt as if he didn’t campaign hard enough to remain in the EU. Corbyn defeated his rival Owen Smith with almost 62% of the party vote, and remained leader of the Labour party.
Also, after the EU Referendum, there was a lot of factors about Brexit that we had little knowledge of, once such factor was the conditions surrounding the type of Brexit deal that the Government would pursue. Two phrases kept appearing in political discussion surrounding the European Union, Hard Brexit and Soft Brexit. Hard Brexit was used to describe a Brexit deal which involved the UK leaving the European Single Market, and Soft Brexit would mean a close deal with the EU that probably involved remaining in the Single Market. With Theresa May’s Government keeping the cards close to their chest regarding Brexit, it caused many to speculate as to what the impact of different Brexit deals would be for the UK, because the only line we got from the Government was “Brexit means Brexit.” Near the end of 2016 Theresa May announced her plan for Brexit, and that it would mean Britain leaving the European Single Market.
The Government’s ambitions for Brexit also raised concerns with some of the UK population. Many who supported a Remain vote had concerns that a Conservative Government with a large number of Eurosceptic MPs may not uphold the same worker’s, environmental and human rights that the EU upheld. These concerns were addressed when the Government announced what was known as the Great Repeal Bill, which would make all EU legislation part of UK law, and parliament will be able to scrap, replace, and amend existing EU law that impacts the UK post-Brexit.
There was another challenge for the Government after the referendum, the extent of power that the Government held over Brexit. Theresa May was not prepared to give MPs in the House of Commons a vote on triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. Although this decision was challenged in the High Court and the Supreme Court, who both ruled that the Government had to give Members of Parliament a vote on triggering Article 50.
After the referendum the Prime Minister faced numerous criticisms that she didn’t have a mandate to negotiate Brexit, as she was not elected by the public, she only became Prime Minister after the other candidates for Conservative leadership dropped out. Theresa May repeatedly refused to call an early General Election. But in April of 2017 the Prime Minister made a U-turn on her decision and announced a snap General Election to be held in June.
The election was Theresa May’s way of achieving a mandate for Brexit, as the Conservatives had high polling numbers over Labour, and they were predicted to achieve a landslide victory. The election was supposed to revolve around Brexit, and the policies relating to brexit, instead the election focused heavily on local issues, which highlighted the impact of Tory Austerity. This resulted badly for Theresa May, as the Conservatives lost their majority, and formed a minority Government, with a reduced mandate for their Brexit plan.
As a result of their reduced number of seats, the Conservatives planned a deal with the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party to back the Minority Government.
So where are we one year on from the EU Referendum. As the Brexit process starts, we know that a Hard Brexit is preferred by the Conservative Government under Theresa May, and we also know the timetable for the Brexit process. The EU will discuss the conditions of the UK’s exit, such as the so called Divorce Bill, before discussing any future relationship that the UK will have with the EU after Brexit, such as a possible Trade Deal. We also know that Phillip Hammond has said that jobs and living standards as a priority during negotiations. The question over the status of EU citizens living in the UK has also been answered when Theresa May said that EU Citizens who have lived in the UK for 5 years or more will be able to apply for UK settled status.
Brexit will continue to be a part of our politics for quite some time, especially over the next 2 years during the negotiation process. The impact of Brexit will also be a factor in UK politics after the negotiation process is finished. The past year has offered a lot of political activity and events, and things will not be slowing down anytime soon, as we learn more about what the final Brexit deal will look like, and what impact Brexit will have on the UK.