BIPP: Deal or no deal: “Getting Brexit done” four years later

Nicole Reddig, BIPP Intern

It has been over four years since the June 23, 2016 Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom. Since then, the country has had two elections, three prime ministers and at least four different Brexit deadlines. So, in 2020, how exactly will Brexit get done?

Current Prime Minister Boris Johnson is practicing a bit of modern-day brinkmanship by threatening to break international law and crash out of the European Union (EU) at the end of the year without a deal. In October 2019, Johnson joined an agreement with the EU to take Britain out of the EU in name on Jan. 31, 2020, with an 11-month transition period to reach a full deal to leave by Dec. 31, 2020. These negotiations are currently stalled.

Last week, Johnson introduced the U.K. Internal Market Bill to address the flow of goods between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Though Northern Ireland is a part of the United Kingdom, it shares a land border with Ireland, dividing the Protestant and Catholic communities that were in constant strife during the Troubles in the late 20th century. The current Brexit deal would allow goods to flow between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but goods that are traveling from the United Kingdom to Ireland through Northern Ireland will be subject to checks in the Irish Sea. The Internal Market Bill violates this agreement. Instead, it would allow the United Kingdom to decide not to engage in border checks and set their standards for state aid to Northern Ireland, regardless of EU requirements.

Cabinet Secretary for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said that the policy breaks international law in a “very specific and limited way.” So, what is the prime minister risking by unabashedly breaking the law? Instead of reaching a deal, the United Kingdom may crash out of the EU without a deal at the end of the year, leading to increased border stoppages, customs delays and trade disruptions most affecting food and medicine supply chains. In the event of a no-deal, it is estimated that food coming from the EU could face a 22 percent tariff. Diplomatically, former Tory Prime Ministers Theresa May and John Major worry that breaking this deal will diminish trust in the United Kingdom globally, affecting future trade agreements. In the United States, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and former Vice President Joe Biden have said that they are unwilling to enter into a U.S.-U.K. trade agreement if Brexit negotiations jeopardize the Good Friday Agreement.

With no end in sight, Johnson must put the country’s well-being over his personal agenda of “getting Brexit done” at any cost. Facing the COVID-19 pandemic and consequential economic recession, the United Kingdom is already struggling to rebuild the economy, maintain food supply chains and provide healthcare to its residents. Johnson must stop playing around with strong-arm tactics and start engaging in diplomacy to avoid a catastrophic no-deal Brexit at the end of the year.

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