The United Kingdom exits the European Union’s orbit on Thursday, turning its back on a tempestuous 48-year liaison with the European project for an uncertain Brexit future that will shape the fortunes of its people for generations to come.
Brexit, in essence, takes place at the strike of midnight in Brussels, or 23.00 London time (GMT), when the United Kingdom leaves de-facto membership that continued after it formally left the bloc on January 31.
For five years, the frenzied gyrations of the Brexit crisis have dominated European affairs, haunted the sterling markets and tarnished the United Kingdom’s reputation as a confident pillar of Western economic and political stability. Cast by supporters as the dawn of a newly independent “global Britain”, Brexit has weakened the bonds that bind together England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland into a $3 trillion economy. “Brexit is not an end but a beginning,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson, 56, told parliament just hours before it approved his EU trade deal. Grinning, he later quipped to reporters that he had read the deal he had signed.
Johnson said there would be no bonfire of regulation to build a “bargain basement Dickensian Britain” and assured Europe that the United Kingdom would remain the “quintessential European civilisation”.
But the face of the Brexit campaign has been short on detail of what he wants to build with the United Kingdom’s new “independence” - or how to do it while borrowing record amounts to pay for the Covid-19 crisis.
In the June 23, 2016, referendum, 17.4 million voters, or 52 percent, backed Brexit while 16.1 million, or 48 percent, backed staying in the bloc. Few have changed their minds since. England and Wales voted out but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted in.
The referendum showed a United Kingdom divided about much more than the European Union, and has fuelled soul-searching about everything from secession and immigration to capitalism, empire and modern Britishness.
Leaving was once the far-fetched dream of a motley crew of “eurosceptics” on the fringes of British politics: the UK joined in 1973 as “the sick man of Europe” and two decades ago British leaders were arguing about whether to join the euro.
“The UK establishment had basically lost its mojo and we went into what was then the common market, really, for reasons of self-protection - we thought that was the best future for us, we couldn’t see another way forward,” Johnson said.
Fast forward 48 years.
“We see a global future for ourselves,” said Johnson who won power in 2019 and, against the odds, clinched a Brexit divorce treaty and a trade deal, as well as the biggest Conservative majority since Margaret Thatcher, in the 2019 election.
For supporters, Brexit is an escape from a doomed German-dominated project that had fallen far behind the world’s leading powers of the United States and China.
Britain backtracks over Brexit curbs on swaps trading
Britain's markets watchdog intervened hours before the country leave's the European Union's single market on Thursday with a partial climbdown on curbs that risked disrupting swaps trades worth billions of euros. The City of London's unfettered access to the European Union, its biggest customer, ends when Brexit transition arrangements expire at 2300 GMT, and without the change of heart UK and EU market participants would have been unable to trade swaps with each other when markets reopen on January 4.