What does Brexit mean?
It is a word that has become used as a shorthand way of saying the UK leaving the EU – merging the words Britain and exit to get Brexit, in a same way as a possible Greek exit from the euro was dubbed Grexit in the past.
Why is Britain leaving the European Union?
A referendum – a vote in which everyone (or nearly everyone) of voting age can take part – was held on Thursday 23 June, to decide whether the UK should leave or remain in the European Union. Leave won by 52% to 48%. The referendum turnout was 71.8%, with more than 30 million people voting.
What was the breakdown across the UK?
England voted for Brexit, by 53.4% to 46.6%, as did Wales, with Leave getting 52.5% of the vote and Remain 47.5%. Scotland and Northern Ireland both backed staying in the EU. Scotland backed Remain by 62% to 38%, while 55.8% in Northern Ireland voted Remain and 44.2% Leave.
Theresa May. The former home secretary took over from David Cameron, who resigned on the day after losing the referendum. Like Mr Cameron, Mrs May was against Britain leaving the EU but she says she will respect the will of the people. She has said “Brexit means Brexit” but there is still a lot of debate about what that will mean in practice especially on the two key issues of how British firms do business in the European Union and what curbs are brought in on the rights of European Union nationals to live and work in the UK.
The UK economy appears to have weathered the initial shock of the Brexit vote, although the value of the pound remains near a 30-year low, but opinion is sharply divided over the long-term effects of leaving the EU. Some major firms such as Easyjet and John Lewis have pointed out that the slump in sterling has increased their costs.
Britain also lost its top AAA credit rating, meaning the cost of government borrowing will be higher. But share prices have recovered from a dramatic slump in value, with both the FTSE 100 and the broader FTSE 250 index, which includes more British-based businesses, trading higher than before the referendum.
The Bank of England is hoping its decision to cut interest rates from 0.5% to 0.25% – a record low and the first cut since 2009 – will stave off recession and stimulate investment, with some economic indicators pointing to a downturn.
The European Union – often known as the EU – is an economic and political partnership involving 28 European countries . It began after World War Two to foster economic co-operation, with the idea that countries which trade together are more likely to avoid going to war with each other.
It has since grown to become a “single market” allowing goods and people to move around, basically as if the member states were one country. It has its own currency, the euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries, its own parliament and it now sets rules in a wide range of areas – including on the environment, transport, consumer rights and even things such as mobile phone charges.
For the UK to leave the EU it has to invoke an agreement called Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which gives the two sides two years to agree the terms of the split. Theresa May has said she intends to trigger this process by the end of March 2017, meaning the UK will be expected to have left by the summer of 2019, depending on the precise timetable agreed during the negotiations.
Once negotiations officially begin, we will start to get a clear idea of what kind of deal the UK will seek from the EU, on trade and immigration.
The government will also enact a Great Repeal Bill which will end the primacy of EU law in the UK. It is expected to incorporate all EU legislation into UK law in one lump, after which the government will decide over a period of time, which parts to keep, change or retain.
Theresa May set up a government department, headed by veteran Conservative MP and Leave campaigner David Davis, to take responsibility for Brexit. Former defence secretary, Liam Fox, who also campaigned to leave the EU, was given the new job of international trade secretary and Boris Johnson, who was a leader of the official Leave campaign, is foreign secretary.
These men – dubbed the Three Brexiteers – will play a central role in negotiations with the EU and seek out new international agreements, although it will be Mrs May, as prime minister, who will have the final say.
How long will it take for Britain to leave the EU?
Once Article 50 has been triggered, the UK will have two years to negotiate its withdrawal. But no one really knows how the Brexit process will work – Article 50 was only created in late 2009 and it has never been used.
Former Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond, now Chancellor, wanted Britain to remain in the EU, and he has suggested it could take up to six years for the UK to complete exit negotiations. The terms of Britain’s exit will have to be agreed by 27 national parliaments, a process which could take some years, he has argued.
EU law still stands in the UK until it ceases being a member.
What do “soft” and “hard” Brexit mean?
These terms are increasingly being used as debate focuses on the terms of the UK’s departure from the EU. There is no strict definition of either, but they are used to refer to the closeness of the UK’s relationship with the EU post-Brexit.
So at one extreme, “hard” Brexit could involve the UK refusing to compromise on issues like the free movement of people in order to maintain access to the EU single market. At the other end of the scale, a “soft” Brexit might follow a similar path to Norway, which is a member of the single market and has to accept the free movement of people as a result.
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