The United Kingdom will leave the European Union at midnight central European time on Friday, although it will have to wait until the end of this year to make the complete break. In the remaining 11 months the British government will have to negotiate the new relationship with the EU with regard to trade, freedom of movement, Northern Ireland and a host of other important issues.
The trade deal, the most important part of the new relationship, must be ready by the last week of November, by which time it will have had to be translated, checked and presented to the European Parliament so that it can be ratified by the end of the year. If it is not ready by then, there will be a no-deal Brexit which means Britain will resort to World Trade Organisation terms, introducing tariffs on goods for trade with the EU.
This might not happen if Prime Minister Boris Johnson decides to extend the so-called transition period during which Britain remains in the customs union. The end of June is the deadline for seeking an extension to the transition period, something Johnson has promised not to do. But promises are made to be broken and nobody would accuse the PM of being a paragon of consistency and steadfastness.
Technically speaking, though, at midnight on Friday (11pm British time) the UK will cease being a member of the EU, ending a 47-year membership that started with celebrations and will finish in much the same way. Big celebrations are planned on Friday night by Brexiteers, whose rhetoric gives the impression that Britain had been liberated from occupation by a foreign power or ceased being a colony.
Tory MP Mark Francois, a Brexit fanatic, remarked, according to The Guardian newspaper, that he would stay up all night “to watch the sun rise on a free country”. In what way Britons’ freedom had been curtailed by EU membership he did not explain. If anything, Britons will relinquish the freedom to settle and work in any country of the EU they choose after 2020, but perhaps these are small prices to pay for “taking back control”.
On Friday night, three-and-a-half years after the referendum, Brexit will have finally happened, but little will change in Britons’ daily lives, because the UK will still be in the customs union and single market until the end of the year. It will not be until 2021 that the UK will feel the full effects of leaving the EU, effects that could be quite painful and far-reaching if no trade deal is agreed by November.
But that is another matter, for now the ‘liberation’ celebrations can begin.