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Brexit Beckons

13 December 2019   |  

Well, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has done it. Nearing four years after the UK’s referendum, it now seems almost certain the UK will officially leaving the EU early in 2020, following an election most have justifiably described as a landslide for the Conservative party and a rout for Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

Though the election’s outcome lends clarity to a longstanding source of uncertainty, ample weighty questions remain, including what a post-Brexit UK economy will look like and how quickly the country will be able to negotiate agreements with major trading partners—notably, the US and the EU. Complicating matters, an agreement with one probably implies trade-offs in terms with the other. For example, a likely goal for the US in any negotiations is securing better access to the UK market for its agricultural products. But US agricultural products generally don’t meet EU standards. So concessions to the US could lead the EU to counter by raising barriers which it hopes will ensure US products don’t make their way into the EU via the UK without passing muster. 

There are similar questions about whether the UK will maintain the EU’s high labor and other regulatory standards. On one hand, maintaining the EU’s labor and regulatory standards likely makes reaching a trade deal easier. But on the other, among the original underpinnings of Brexit was that the UK no longer wanted to be beholden to EU standards. Further, the UK would be agreeing to follow standards in whose establishment it no longer participates once its representatives have officially left Brussels. 

Then there are questions about the fate of the United Kingdom itself. Somewhat lost amid the overall result was the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) resounding victory, in which it claimed 48 of 59 Scottish parliamentary seats. Since the 2016 Brexit referendum, the SNP has been a staunch opponent of taking the UK out of the EU. With the party’s ranks reinforced, not only will it undoubtedly continue to oppose Brexit, it will likely make Brexit a significant justification for revisiting the question of Scotland’s own independence from the UK. The most recent Scottish independence referendum in 2014 was rejected rather soundly, and for now, PM Johnson has indicated he won’t even consider holding another. But the issue is sure to be raised again—SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has already promised as much. 

All told, only a small piece of the picture became clearer after Thursday’s election. Where the UK goes from here has implications sure to reverberate beyond the country’s shores for the foreseeable future.

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