Thirivikram Balaji, Research Intern, Internationalism.
Ever since the Brits voted to withdraw from the European Union in 2016 referendum, the United Kingdom has been wrangling over the execution of its infamous exit. The process been far from smooth and has been riddled with obstacles, primarily due to the badly divided government and its inability to settle on an approach that would give effect to the nation’s most controversial decision in decades. The European Union has given yet another extension for the deadline the UK’s departure and has pushed it Jan 31, 2020.
In short, things have not gone well, and the battle has already cost the former Prime Minister, Theresa May her office. After she failed to negotiate an effective solution with her party, coalition partners, and the EU officials, Mrs May made an announcement in late May that she would resign from her office. This colossal task was then inherited by her successor, the current Prime minister Boris Johnson, who is a staunch supporter of Brexit and a member of the Conservative & Unionist Party. His insistence to pull UK out of the EU (if need be) even without a formal agreement (no-deal scenario) caused outrage among policymakers as it would have grave economic consequences. However, the lawmakers and Mr Johnson finally settled on an agreement after a lot of haggling. On the 17th of October, 2019, the EU negotiators and the Prime minister made an announcement that they had finally struck a draft deal, which still had to overcome numerous hurdles. The conservative partly secured an overwhelming majority in the parliamentary elections, when the Brits took to the polls on the 12th of December, 2019. With Mr Johnson's victory, Britain’s exit now appears closer than ever, despite every other issue in Britain being dwarfed by Brexit.
An amalgamation of the words, Britain and Exit, Brexit has stood for the change in Britain’s relationship with the European Union on matters of trade, security and migration. Britain had always debated the benefits of membership in a community of European nations, ever since the idea was broached. In the first referendum with respect to its entry into the what was previously known as the European Economic community in 1975, over 67% voted in favour of staying in the community. Despite the positive response, debates raged on the topic for decades. As a bid for closure, Prime Minister David Cameron called for a referendum on UK’s membership in the EU, convinced that the majority would vote to stay. However, Mr Cameron had seriously miscalculated the outcome, as 52% of the voters sought an exit from the bloc, setting in motion a chain of events which saw negotiations and debates rage through Europe, with no answers or a decisive outcome after more than three years.
Undoing nearly five decades of economic and political integration in one swift move was never going to be a walk in the park. The entire Brexit process has been divided by the divisions that gave rise to the referendum in the first place. The two main parties of Britain, the Labour Party and the Conservative and Union Party, had different views on what was to be done, factionalizing the parliament and hampering a decisive outcome. After Mr Johnson’s October announcement of the draft deal, one of his allies, the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland, withdrew support in fear of economic isolation of the region from the rest of the United Kingdom. This loss in support was a major setback, as the Conservatives had needed the alliance to stay in power, ever since it lost a simple majority in the elections of 2017. However, the colossal victory in the Dec 12 election enabled Mr Johnson to proceed without such support, paving the way for a possible exit, early in 2020. To add to the existing pile of complications, the Labour Party suggested a second public vote, giving the people a chance to reverse Brexit altogether. But any hopes of a second referendum were quickly put to rest with Mr Johnson’s recent victory.
One of the only clear decisions made by the Parliament in this regard was the issuance of a formal notice to exit under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty (of the EU), which provided for a two-year departure process. As per the Article, the 29th of March, 2019 was set as the formal divorce date.
When it became fairly obvious that the Parliament would not ratify Theresa May’s Plan, the EU agreed to extend the deadline to April 12th, 2019. Despite the extension, there were no signs of an agreement being reached in London, and on the insistence of May, the EU decided to push back the deadline to 31st October. While assuming office in July, Boris Johnson vowed to execute the departure within the deadline, with or without a deal. However, with strong opposition against a no-deal divorce from within the party and lawmakers, such an option was completely blocked. The dynamic has now seen a paradigm shift with the Dec 12 election, and with Mr Johnson’s overwhelming majority, the execution of the Brexit agreement seems very likely.
Yet there is much work to be done, and while it has been hard to negotiate the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union, determining and maintaining Britain’s relationship with the European Bloc will be much harder. PM Boris Johnson is now tasked with coming up with a deal that is not only acceptable for the European Union but also works for the two divided factions in his own party: those who want a clean exit, and those who want to maintain a close relationship with the Bloc.
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