The United Kingdom definitively cut this Thursday, an hour before midnight (local time), its ties with the European Union and ended 48 years of troubled relationship, to become a “free” country embarking on a solo future full of challenges.
“When the sun rises tomorrow in 2021 … the UK will be free to do things differently, and if necessary better, let our friends in the EU … free to make trade deals around the world and free to further our ambition “, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a year-end message more focused on the coronavirus than on ‘Brexit’.
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At 11 pm (local time), midnight in much of continental Europe, the country definitively left the EU customs union.
Due to the pandemic there were no celebrations. Just what some consider a discreet nod: Big Ben, the immense bell located in a tower of the British Parliament, under restoration since 2017, that exceptionally came out of its silence to ring the New Year’s Eve chimes, it also sounded an hour earlier as part of the tests to check its mechanism.
With this historic outing, which happened “in Downing Street with his family”, The charismatic and controversial Johnson scores an important personal victory after taking the reins of this chaotic process in July 2019.
Its executive even avoided a last-minute shock, reaching an agreement with the Spanish government on Thursday to keep the border with Gibraltar open: the small British enclave at the southern end of the Iberian Peninsula will be integrated into the Schengen zone of free movement of people.
Hope and concern
After years of chaos and political confrontation, the UK officially left the EU on January 31, putting into practice what the British decided by 52 percent of the vote in the referendum June 2016.
But, for eleven months the country was in a “transition period” during which it remained in the customs union and the single market while discussing its future relationship with the 27.
The negotiation, which on several occasions seemed destined for failure, ended up bearing fruit on December 24: London and Brussels closed the most comprehensive and comprehensive free trade agreement possible in a record ten months.
(You may be interested in: The ‘brexit’ is completed in a historic day for Europe)
With it, the EU offers unprecedented access without tariffs or quotas to its immense market of 450 million consumers in exchange for the British commitment to respect rules that will evolve over time in terms of the environment, labor rights and tax, to avoid any unfair competition .
In this way, chaos on the British borders was avoided, as its ports were blocked by trucks subjected to heavy customs procedures and that the shortage of products added to the sadness of a third lockdown caused by a strong resurgence of the coronavirus.
However, despite the agreement, the bureaucracy will increase and in Dover, the main British port on the English Channel, feelings of hope and concern were mixed.
Looking to the future
“It will be better, we must govern ourselves and be our own bosses,” said Maureen Martin, a retired Englishwoman, while Kirk Hughes, a computer worker, admitted feeling “a little nervous” about potential disturbances.
The challenges are now considerable for the Johnson administration. He has promised to give the UK a new place in the world, but is about to lose a powerful ally with the departure of Donald Trump, a supporter of ‘Brexit’ who will be replaced in the White House by Democrat Joe Biden, more pro-European.
At the national level, the Conservative executive must strive to reunify the British, divided by a ‘Brexit’ against which both Scotland and Northern Ireland had voted.
“We left an empty seat at the table in Europe,” but “it won’t be empty for long,” threatened Scottish pro-independence deputy Ian Blackford, whose party, the SNP, is demanding a new referendum on self-determination, after the lost in 2014, in the hope of being able to reintegrate the EU as an independent state.
Since its entry into the European Economic Community in 1973, the British relationship with the bloc has been marked by conflict. MMore interested in economic than political integration, London in 1985 refused to participate in the Schengen agreements and in 1993 in the single currency. And he asked to contribute less to the common budget.
Now the EU permanently loses its first member and with it 66 million inhabitants and an economy of 2.85 trillion dollars. And the fear that other populists will be tempted to follow suit wins.
But, free from the British brakes, he will be able to continue working on his project of greater political integration. “It’s been a long road. It’s time to leave behind
‘brexit’. Our future is built in Europe “, affirmed the president of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen.