The birth of Brexit
In 1994, a man named James Goldsmith was faced with a challenge. He had created a political party, and had but three years to nurture its persuasive prowess into rivalling the comparative titans of Labour and the Conservatives. Luckily, Goldsmith was a man of some means, a multi-millionaire in fact, and used his social standing to bypass common routes of political favour and mass media, aiming straight for the heart of Britain’s voters.
To all accounts, he missed. His party was a flop, scorned and ridiculed by the public, securing less than 2% of the public vote in the UK’s general election of 1997, and rejected by the politicians; out of 547 seats contested in Parliament, the party lost of every one of them.
History is full of unfulfilled dreams, yet as this historic day will testify, some ambitions are achieved despite all the odds. As, although Goldsmith the man may have failed, his ambition grew without him, and, 22 years after his political defeat, is more alive than ever. Goldsmith’s party was The Referendum Party, and its sole aim, that Britain should annex itself from the European Union, is being signed into reality today.
What was once a conceptual outcast, has seeped into the mainstream; and transformed into an idea, that accept it or not, is dragging us all into a most uncertain future.
The end of an era, and a momentous day
Whichever side you fell in the Brexit debate: whether the referendum verdict on the on the 23rd of June 2016 left you desolated, elated or insecure: whether you were beguiled by Boris Johnson or put off by the polemics of Nigel Farage: the contention and uncertainty that still resonate from the 51.9% majority decision last June, for Britain to leave the European Union, is far from over.
Prime Minister Theresa May (above) has signed Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty; the letter that formally sets in stone the UK’s departure from the European Union. PM May authorised the document on Tuesday evening, and it now travels to Brussels to be officially invoked by the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk. At an estimated 12:30 BST, and at time of going to press, on Wednesday the 29th of March, the negotiations for Britain to become an isolated entity apart from EU influence will begin.
PM May has heralded this historic day, and the termination of a 44 year long international relationship, as the beginning of a “momentous journey”, and whilst its intended destination is known, the path the coming negotiations will take towards that is still yet to be revealed. From today, a two-year period will open in which the terms of Brexit may be argued for and finalised, before its ultimate realisation on March 29th 2019. Yet, many analysts believe this to be an insufficient window, and foresee it may take a decade to negotiate trade deals, self-governance and legal measures for both EU nationals in the UK and British citizens in Europe. However long it takes, PM May has vowed to protect this last category, the country’s people, with “fierce determination, to get the right deal for every single person in this country”. As the Prime Minister urges the people of the UK to unite in spite of any lingering ideological differences, the launch of Article 50 and its ensuing negotiations will in years to come shape this very country and what we have to unite around.
A note for the future
At this point, before fractious negotiations begin, it is useful to be heed the words of John Kerr, British diplomat and author of Article 50 itself. In his words, the article was originally intended as a ‘Voluntary Withdrawal’ and is by no means “an expulsion procedure. We remain full members of the European Union throughout the negotiating period; the two years, or its extension. If, having looked into abyss we were to change our minds about withdrawal, we certainly could – and no-one in Brussels could stop us.”
Lord Kerr’s words echo a sentiment that places more autonomy and power in the UK’s government than many would believe; and suggests that Article 50 is by no means a slippery slope, and may be adjusted at any time. However, this open-minded and flexible approach is not shared by everyone. A report from The European Parliament Research Service (EPRS) recently conceded that whilst Britain may change its course in the future, for now this may well be a distinct impossibility. As far as any upcoming negotiations go, “London does not know how weak its cards are”, and must tread carefully if it wishes to keep its European counterparts as sympathetic allies.
In full, their report makes for bracing reading, with the prediction that “even the best possible deal that is feasible will harm the economic well-being of all concerned”. The EPRS foresee that trade deals may well sit on the back-burner of future Brexit negotiations, as politics for all member states takes precedence over international economics. With British economists already predicting the imminent insecurity and flux in the value of pound sterling, times of change and instability do indeed seem to be awaiting Britain’s economic future.
As we wait to see what that socio-economic future holds after today, there is no doubt that the next few years will begin to create seismic ripples for the future of the UK and its place in the world. The Prime Minister may have chosen her words astutely indeed, as the momentous journey this day embarks Britain upon will yield future challenges that may later question everything this sceptred, and soon to be separate, isle has come to know.