Brexit – where are we at?

Saturday 28 October, 16:0017:15, Frobisher Auditorium 2The new political landscape

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As things stand, the UK will depart the European Union on 29 March 2019, but what this actually means is yet to be determined. Theresa May has set out a vision of the UK leaving the both the European Single Market and the Customs Union, but conflicting messages have come from certain cabinet members. The Labour Party’s position also remains ambiguous, having pledged during the election to respect the referendum vote, but subsequently called for a lengthy transitional period in which the UK would remain closely tied to the EU. In any case, two years is a timeframe that it is unlikely to ever be met, which is unsurprising given that those who wrote the Lisbon Treaty never expected Article 50 to be triggered. Talks have frequently stalled, with the EU demanding a substantial amount of money as payment for leaving the union, which leading British politicians have pledged not to pay. Another major issue is the rights and status of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa, and there seems little sign of impending agreement on those. Given that negotiations have not properly begun and these two stumbling blocks still cannot be overcome, it leaves us facing an ever more uncertain future as we move inexorably closer to the March 2019 deadline.

This uncertainty has been capitalised on by politicians, academics and campaigners who are demanding a second referendum or as Vince Cable puts it more bluntly – ‘an exit from Brexit’. There is still a section of society that refuses to concede that Brexit will happen, and holds regular demonstrations to demand a return to ‘common sense’. But with most of Parliament committed to Brexit in one form or another, are such calls any more than the last gasp of a lost cause? Or does the ambiguity about what Brexit actually means hold out the prospect of a ‘soft Brexit’ that does not really amount to leaving the EU at all? If Brexit does go ahead, can it be made to succeed, even creating a better future for Britain? Or is European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker right that Britain will soon be made to ‘regret’ voting to leave the EU? What does the future hold, and how might ordinary British citizens of all political stripes help shape it?