Elsewhere in this issue, in the ieBLOG section, we explore “Brexit” and its potential impacts on Northern Ireland’s environment. Here we describe the essential meaning and wider implications of Brexit. The term is an abbreviation of “British exit” and refers to the referendum held in the United Kingdom (UK) to allow the people of the UK to vote to either leave the European Union (EU) or to remain part of it. To be more precise, it might have been called “UKexit” since all of the UK —England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — were entitled to vote in the referendum and the results apply to them all. Of course UKexit is an awkward sounding word.
The referendum was held on June 23, 2016 and a UK-wide total of 52% voted to leave and 48% voted to remain. A majority in England and Wales voted to leave, while a majority in Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain.
Now that the people of the UK have voted to leave, it is up to the UK government to take formal action to initiate the process of withdrawing. There is some uncertainty as to whether Prime Minister May, on behalf of her government, has the authority to trigger the legal withdrawal, or whether Parliament must vote on it. PM May has committed to the Brexit withdrawal, while it is unclear what would happen if Parliament voted on it. Once the withdrawal process is triggered, the parties — the UK and EU — have two years to negotiate the terms of the withdrawal and what, if any, formal relationship between the UK and EU would survive.
The negotiations of the terms of any continuing relationship will likely turn on the two issues that dominated the referendum. First, whether the UK will be empowered to control who is allowed to migrate to the UK from the other EU Member states, including possibly Turkey should it become an EU Member, contrary to the long-standing and fundamental principle of the EU for freedom of citizens of each Member to travel to and work in any other Member state. Second, whether the UK would retain free access to the EU economic single market so UK firms could sell products and services (including banking) within the entire EU without tariffs or restrictions. The EU has made clear that access to the single market requires accepting the EU freedom of movement and other fundamental principles.
Some further ideas to explore on Brexit
To what extent will environmental protections within the UK be undermined if the UK proceeds to leave the EU?
What, if any, environmental impacts in the Republic of Ireland would occur as a result of Brexit, including any cross-border issues.
What will happen to UK citizens living and working in EU countries if the movement of EU citizens to the UK is restricted, even banned?
“Brexit and Its Potential Impacts on Northern Ireland’s Environment,” in the ieBLOG section of this issue of irish environment magazine.
Brian Wheeler & Alex Hunt,” Brexit: All you need to know about the UK leaving the EU,” BBC News (29 Sept 2016). www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887