By Benton Killion
With the United Kingdom having finished its transition period from the beginning of Brexit, more people have been discussing what will be changing in the new year.
The idea of Brexit started many years ago; however, England actually left the European Union (EU) on January 31, 2020, and began its eleven-month transition period where politicians from the United Kingdom could continue conversations about trade deals, tariffs, and regulations with the European Union. Essentially, there were two topics talked about the most; Northern Ireland’s border with the Republic of Ireland, often referred to as “the Irish Backstop,” and tariffs.
First, Northern Ireland’s history with the Republic of Ireland has been very violent. Centuries ago, the United Kingdom took control of their neighboring isle, a predominantly Catholic island, slowly turning Northern Ireland Protestant. In 1920, the British placed a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but this led to conflict between the Catholic, independence-seeking Nationalists of the south and the Protestant Unionists from the north. Decades later, in the late 1960s, extreme violence broke out, leading to the UK instituting a hard border, patrolled by the British Military, and erecting walls and watchtowers. After over 30 years of violence, in 1998, the Good Friday Agreement was instituted, stating that the hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland would be taken down, and if Northern Ireland were to vote for it, the two countries could be merged into one. During the Brexit negotiations starting in 2016, disputes over the Irish border were common, though many people, including then Prime Minister Theresa May, rejected all proposals. In the end, Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom; however, the border was placed between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland in the Irish Sea, meaning the possibility of Northern Ireland joining the Republic of Ireland is no longer unlikely.
The second important issue discussed during negotiations was potential tariffs. Tariffs, essentially an import tax, were an important topic for business owners and manufacturers alike. If a manufacturer decides to make pillows, but the UK doesn’t have a large enough demand for their pillows, they could choose to export the extra product to a different country. By exporting, the concern was that this cheap product that can be made in another part of the European Union would cost more coming from England than from another country because of the tariffs. A company that purchases pillows could buy them from an EU company instead of a British company, so they would pay less. For business owners, the concern was that cheap products from the EU would cost them more to import and would then cost the customer more, potentially discouraging them from purchasing the items in their store and instead choosing to shop online. After years of negotiations, the EU and UK have decided to place tariffs on non-essential items like alcohol and tobacco, but not on essential items like food and children’s clothing.
Finally, why did the United Kingdom decide to leave the European Union? In 2016, before he was Prime Minister, Boris Johnson drove in a large bus saying, “We send the EU £350 million a week, let’s fund our NHS instead”. After a few days, this number had been thoroughly debated and proven false. An article from 2016, written by Steven Erlanger of The New York Times, states that after a rebate and money the EU sends back, the UK actually sends, “…about £190 million a week, a little more than half of what Vote Leave claims…”. This may sound like a lot, but this is “roughly 0.5 percent of British gross domestic product.”
Another strong pro-Brexit group called the United Kingdom Independence Party(or UKIP) claims this will help control England’s borders. This group had a member, Robert Blay, who was caught by the Daily Mirror saying “his family has only been here since the seventies. You are not British enough to be in our parliament,” in reference to one of his opponents who was born in London and raised in Hampshire, and he even started “threatening to shoot Mr. Jayawardena if he ever became prime minister”. Another member referred to a Chinese woman using a racial slur. The party’s leader, Nigel Farage, later supported the man who used the racial slur on a radio station called Leading Britain’s Conversation.
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