‘Get Brexit Done’ was the mantra repeated throughout the UK General Election last month.
Every question seemed to boil down to one answer; some criticised Boris Johnson for his unrelenting repetition of the phrase while others mocked, citing the lack of actual detailed policies in his speeches and the Conservative Party’s manifesto.
The mantra worked, though, delivering an 80-seat majority for the Tories, the biggest majority since Margaret Thatcher’s in 1987. But what does ‘Get Brexit Done’ actually mean? Can it be done by 31st January? Or will there be yet another extension?
Done, or ‘Done’?
There will not be an extension. The UK will not get to the 31st January and have to ask for another three months. This is because Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement has been passed, by a whopping majority of 99 votes. As a quick comparison, on the 15th January 2019, Theresa May tried to pass her withdrawal agreement and lost by 230 votes – the largest vote against the UK government in history. So yes, Brexit will be ‘done’ at the end of January – the UK will definitely be leaving the European Union, there will be no more uncertainty about that.
However, Brexit on the 31st January, at 11pm GMT, will arguably be Brexit in name only. In the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Theresa May, and carried forward by Boris Johnson in his own negotiations, the UK will enter a transition period until the 31st December 2020 – so, 11 months from Brexit day. During this time, the UK will still have to abide by EU laws, rules and regulations: come 1st February, everything will be exactly the same as it is right now – members of the public will not notice anything different – but, for all intents and purposes, the UK will technically no longer be a part of the EU.
Real Brexit – 31st December 2020, 11pm GMT
The transition period will allow the UK and the EU to negotiate a new trade deal and thrash out the other important aspects of a future relationship between the two unions. When the end-date of the transition period was first agreed by Theresa May, and if her deal had passed, then the UK would have had 21 months to negotiate the terms of their future relationship with the EU. As it currently stands, we have 11 months. If the UK has not agreed on a deal with the EU by the end of the transition period, it risks crashing out with a no-deal Brexit.
As the threat of a no-deal Brexit has not been eliminated by the passing of Boris Johnson’s Withdrawal Agreement, there is a chance, albeit a very slim chance, that the transition period will be extended beyond December 2020. Even Boris Johnson himself, who throughout the election campaign continued to insist that 11 months was an ‘ample’ amount of time to get a trade deal done and that there was ‘absolutely zero’ chance of an extension to the transition period, has seemingly begun to tone down his rhetoric. In his BBC Breakfast interview yesterday, he stopped short of stating that an EU trade deal will definitely happen this year, saying that it is ‘very likely… enormously likely… epically likely’.
So although, yes, the UK will technically leave the EU on the 31st January, it is a name-only kind of Brexit. We will continue to obey EU laws and regulations for another 11 months, at least. This means that things like travel across EU member countries will continue to be as it is currently, and free healthcare for UK citizens in member states will be permitted as long as you hold a valid EHIC card.
All of this is to say that, despite the mantra, the real Brexit will be done in 11 months time, deal or no-deal.