Everything You Need To Know About The Mess That Is Brexit

From the Brexit referendum to Boris Johnson and everything in between.

By Rachel Janfaza

The United Kingdom has been negotiating a potential departure from the EU after voting to leave in a public referendum in June 2016 — a decision you probably know as Brexit. Yet three years later, the result of that referendum has been delayed — time, and time, and time again.

Since the initial vote to leave, many rounds of negotiations, episodes of both in-party and between-party fighting between Conservative and Labour Party members, and waves of counter-activism, especially on behalf of young people — have kept the UK on a roller-coaster of ups and downs.

The UK is set to leave the European Union on October 31, 2019. Although the debate has changed dramatically since the June 2016 vote, some initial reasons for their departure included economic stability and national security.

As the October 31 deadline quickly approaches, the Brexit drama is heating up. Yet as of September 4th, a no-deal Brexit (a scenario in which the UK would leave the EU overnight with no measures for trade or customs in place to help with the transition) seems to be off the table.

Here are the facts you need to know about three years of political mayhem, along with the most recent updates in this complicated series of rather unfortunate events.

The Build-Up: The Brexit Referendum And Three Years Of Chaos

Brexit, the nickname for Britain’s decision to exit the European Union, started in June 2016, when the United Kingdom (which includes England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland) voted to leave the EU, one of the world’s most influential blocs, in a public referendum.

The referendum was close; the UK voted to leave by 52 percent to 48 percent. The votes differed by age, and, generally speaking, young people overwhelmingly voted to remain: In fact, 75 percent of 18-to-24-year-olds voted to remain in the EU.

Following the decision, critics voiced concerns that the decision to leave was not only racist and xenophobic but that it may have been caused by London-centric politicians. Proponents for Brexit insisted that there would be economic benefits, but it’s worth noting that the pound has fluctuated dramatically since the referendum. Immediately following the vote, it plummeted, and its value has a tendency to particularly sway on days of major parliamentary chaos, such as September 4, 2019.

In the wake of the referendum, most discussions between members of parliament and EU officials have focused on how the UK would leave the EU and not whether or not the UK should actually say see you later.

Third Time’s The Charm: Does Boris Johnson Have What It Takes To Leave The EU?

At this point, three UK Prime Ministers have overseen the Brexit negotiations. In June 2016, David Cameron, who was Prime Minister at the time, resigned after the referendum vote. Theresa May was appointed the new leader of the UK in July 2016 and oversaw attempts at a peaceful exit, known by many as a “soft” Brexit, which would allow the UK to remain aligned with the EU. (A “hard” Brexit would force an immediate and drastic divorce.)

But when May stepped down in May 2019, Boris Johnson became prime minister. Johnson was elected by the Conservative Party because of his promise to get the UK out of the EU by the October 31 deadline. He’s a polarizing figure who is often compared to President Donald Trump, and the reality of an all-or-nothing Brexit became all the more likely when he assumed the role.

What’s Going On Now? Parliament Says No To A No-Deal Brexit 

Now that October 31 is quickly approaching, the pressure is on. Johnson had suggested a general election to aide in the process of building a “much better deal” ahead of the deadline and said he hoped that new members of parliament could compromise on an agreement.

In reality, a snap election could have helped Johnson maintain a no-deal Brexit. The new faces in Westminster would be faced with the same Brexit problem and likely no new solutions.

So on September 4, in a mess of chaos driven by Labour party leaders, parliament officially voted (and passed a bill to secure) that a snap election before October 31 is off the table, at least until a Brexit delay is secured. The bill would legally prevent a no-deal Brexit and force Johnson’s hand into a delayed departure. Opposition party members would only discuss the potential for a general election once that no-deal Brexit bill became a law. And it did, on Monday, September 9.

What’s Next? Johnson’s Hail Mary

Although Johnson has claimed he doesn’t even want an election, he said he “rather be dead in a ditch” than delay Brexit any longer. On September 9 and into the hours of the early morning on September 10, Johnson desperately tried to call another election to ensure that the UK will, in fact, leave the EU by October 31.

But, given that opposition leaders still refused the call for a snap election, Johnson lost the vote. He has yet to win a vote as Prime Minister.

In late August, Johnson formally asked Queen Elizabeth II for permission to “prorogue,” AKA suspend, parliament, perhaps to run down the clock on Brexit. As mandated by the British constitution, the queen had no choice but to say yes. And on September 10, Johnson suspended parliament for five weeks.

Now, with just over a month until the Brexit deadline, the UK parliament — and British democracy at large — has been put on hold.