The Conservative Party in the United Kingdom won the December snap General Election with 43.6% of the vote. This means Boris Johnson will remain Prime Minister and carry through with his campaign promise to “get Brexit done.”
Since the shock result of the referendum in 2016 when the UK decided to leave the European Union, Britain has been in a seemingly never-ending struggle to actually make this a reality. Here is a breakdown of what exactly Brexit is and what is expected to happen following this general election outcome.
What is Brexit?
In it’s most simple form, Brexit (British Exit) is the decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. The European Union is a political and economic union involving 28 European countries. Citizens of these countries are able to move freely, live and work in any of these member states. The UK is the first country to decide to leave, after joining in 1973.
Prime Minister David Cameron promised a national referendum on the UK’s membership, with the options being leave or remain. Cameron had thought that the Remain camp would win, but with the Leave campaign pushing issues like the refugee crisis they took the vote with an unexpected 52% majority. There has been much speculation as to how this result came about, from the Leave campaign being accused of peddling lies and fear-mongering to a possible low “remainer” voter turnout because they believed that it was a done deal that they would win.
Following the vote, David Cameron resigned and Theresa May who took his place triggered Article 50, the formal two-year process to leave the European Union. This two-year deadline has been extended three times as the UK government has been unable to agree on a deal, despite May’s deals being accepted by the EU. The complicated nature of the UK and EU’s relationship means that Brexit isn’t as easy as just leaving, in addition the Conservative and Labour parties can’t agree on exactly how the deal would be structured.
Theresa May resigned after her Brexit deals were rejected by Members of Parliament (MP’s), after the Conservatives objected to a section of the deal called the backstop. The backstop was designed to ensure there would be no border posts between Northern Ireland (which is part of the UK) and the Republic of Ireland (EU).
Conservatives believed that this would trap the UK and stop it from striking deals with other countries. But because of the troubled history of Northern Ireland, a closed border risks re-igniting tensions between the catholic and protestant factions in the country which were only settled in the 1990s.
Boris Johnson was chosen as the Conservative Party’s replacement for Theresa May, but his revised deal also failed to be accepted. Despite saying he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than ask for another extension, Johnson was forced to do so after the opposition and members of his own party blocked the option of a no-deal Brexit. The EU agreed to an extension till January 31, 2020.
What will happen now?
After failing to pass his deal, Johnson called for a snap December election which was passed and set for December 12. The Labour Party said that should they win they would hold a second referendum allowing the UK to re-vote on leaving the EU. In a shocking upset, the Conservative’s gained 66 seats from their opposition, strengthening the Conservative position in Parliament and freeing Johnson from relying on support from the hard-line elements in his party and smaller special interest parties.
Despite winning, it is still not clear exactly how Brexit will unfold. Should his deal be pushed through parliament, this will start the transition period when Johnson will still have to go into trade negotiations with the EU which he has said will be concluded by the end of 2020, an optimistic timeline considering the extent of trade negotiations that need to be undertaken. But his own deal even allows for a requested extension on the trade deal negotiations which must be submitted before June 2020.
What does Brexit mean for South Africa?
As part of the British Commonwealth, South Africa maintains a strong connection to Britain. The biggest concerns around Brexit were related to trade between the two countries.
In September, South Africa and the UK struck a trade deal to ensure the continuity of trade conditions after Brexit. The deal ensures that all current conditions will stay in place. This is beneficial as both countries benefit from each others goods, with the UK receiving exported South African wine and fresh produce and South Africa importing machinery and cars from the UK.
Despite this positive outcome, South Africans could still be effected depending on the outcomes of the negotiations between the EU and UK. Many South African companies that have their European offices based in the UK may need to relocate to continue ease of business with the EU. In addition, South Africans who hold British passports may see their free access to live and work in EU countries removed.