Brexit: where are we headed, and what might it mean?

Brexit is entering a decisive period. Will the UK leave as planned? Will it reject the agreement and leave with no deal? Will it try to remain in the EU after all? Whether you’re into politics or not, the outcome of the next few weeks could have a lasting impact on your life.

By Stephen Gilmore

Where are we at?

The two parties have reached a ‘divorce agreement’ on the terms of the UK’s departure and a tentative framework for future relations. On Tuesday 11 December the UK Parliament will vote to approve or reject the proposed deal. Should the deal be passed by MPs, it would then also need to be ratified by the EU Parliament.

However, at the time of writing, the overwhelming consensus is that the deal will be rejected by the UK Parliament. The reasons for this are manifold, and dissenting voices range from those who now seek a second referendum, or ‘People’s Vote’, on the deal in the hope of remaining in the EU, to those who want a ‘clean break’ from the EU, who would in fact welcome a ‘no deal’ Brexit.

What does the deal mean for me?

If – and it is a big if – the deal is approved, things would stay pretty much as they are until January 1 2021. This ‘transition period’ would see the UK continue to participate in all EU programmes and, as such, UK organisations would still be eligible to operate as part of and apply for funding from Erasmus+ (the EU programme for education, training, youth and sport) up to the end of 2020.

The future post-2020 is much less clear, however. The UK Government has indicated it “may wish to participate” in the successor scheme to Erasmus+ as a non-EU Member State, but any agreement on this would only come as part of the second phase of negotiations on the ‘future partnership’ once the UK had left the EU – negotiations to be based on the extremely vague‘Political Declaration’, which does not mention Erasmus by name.

If you want to visit the UK any time soon it might be worth making sure your passport is up-to-date

Similarly, for those perhaps interested in pursuing further study at a UK institution after finishing at the VUB, a successor to the arrangement which sees EU citizens – including UK students – at present treated equally across the EU in terms of tuition fees is yet to be negotiated, as is access to student loans.

Moreover, UK Prime Minister Theresa May has made ending the free movement of people to the UK her top priority. ‘The Maybot’ has made abhorrent comments about EU citizens no longer being able to “jump the queue” after Brexit. So it is fair to say that with a middle-class racist as PM any new immigration system would not be as favourable to EU citizens as it is now. Nor, would one expect, the environment for non-EU citizens wishing to make a life in the UK to be much less hostile than before, either.

What happens if the deal is voted down? (No-one knows)

Theoretically, the UK leaves the EU on 30 March 2019 with no deal having been agreed. This is the default legal position, which would mean no transition period, and freedom of movement would end immediately, with obvious consequences for any student wishing to work or study in the UK next year. The rights to live and work of the 3.7 million EU citizens currently living in Britain and the 1.3 million Brits in the EU would be unclear.

Erasmus+ grants made to UK-based applicants will also cease in the event of ‘no deal’. Though the UK Government has committed to underwrite all successful bids for funding – presumably, but not explicitly, from organisations and students – submitted before the UK exits the EU, this does not guarantee their legal ability to continue participating in Erasmus+ funded programmes. So should discussions to ensure UK organisations are able to continue with ongoing projects fail, the UK portion of these activities may well be obliged to stop.

As for short-term travel, the EU and UK have both indicated that they would “aim to provide for visa-free travel” for holidays or business visits of up to 90 days. However, the UK has suggested that it will “require all visitors to travel on a passport” (rather than an ID card), so if you want to visit the UK any time soon – unlikely as that seems – it might be worth making sure your passport is up-to-date.

Whatever the result of a general election, it is unlikely to see the UK stay in the EU

But given hardly anyone in Brussels or Westminster wants this outcome, how might they avoid it? In short, by agreeing to extend Article 50 (the two-year timeline for a member state to leave the EU), a general election, or a ‘People’s Vote’ – or most likely a combination thereof.

A general election could change everything or nothing. A switch of governing party could mean a new government seeks a strikingly different deal with the EU – dubbed ‘Norway+’ in political nerd circles – which would preserve full participation in the single market, and thus freedom of movement. Or an election could return much the same group of people to parliament as are currently unable to agree on a way forward. Whatever the result, it is unlikely to see the UK stay in the EU.

The other increasingly likely scenario is a ‘People’s Vote’. A poll carried out on 28 November put support for a ‘People’s Vote’ at 48% with 34% opposed. At this stage, and without a clear idea of the question on the ballot, only a fool would make a prediction. Nevertheless, recent polling has consistently put support for remaining in the EU ahead of leaving, and the 28 November poll gave clear support for remaining in the EU over both the deal being proposed and a ‘no deal’ scenario.

So…it’s a mess. (Quelle surprise)

It must be tempting just to wash your hands of the British. To want Brexit over. And for it to hurt them. ‘They started this – and now they can’t get their s**t together!’ But Brexit – especially a hurtful Brexit – will damage us all. As this becomes abundantly clear, I hope my country has the guts to turn around and say, ‘forgive us, we got it wrong’. And I hope that, if we do, you’ll still be there. We may not deserve it, but I hope you’ll keep faith with us, for all our futures’ sakes.

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