The withdrawal took place at 11 p.m. London time on Friday after EU lawmakers approved a deal in Parliament earlier in the week.
U.K. celebrates in London as the clock hits Brexit hour for leaving the EU
“For many people, this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson said in a video address. “And there are many of course who feel a sense of anxiety and loss.
“And then there’s a third group — perhaps the biggest — who had started to worry that the whole political wrangle would never come to an end.”
The deal was achieved after Johnson’s Conservatives were elected to a majority in the House of Commons in December. It ends a three-and-a-half-year period of political gridlock and pandemonium that was sparked by the 2016 Brexit referendum.
Though the U.K. will no longer be an EU member state or have a say within the bloc as of Feb. 1, the Brexit story is far from over.
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In fact, rather than closing the book on the divorce deal, the agreement marks the start of a new chapter in the saga.
Here’s a look at what comes next and the questions that remain:
The transition period after Brexit
One of the components of the deal established between the U.K. and Brussels is that there will be an 11-month transition period during which all rules and regulations stay the same while the two parties work to hammer out the rest of the Brexit deal, which will tackle contentious issues such as trade, travel, fisheries and immigration.
“They have an agreement to carry forward what the arrangements were between Britain and the European Union for the freedom of movement of capital, goods, services and people,” said Mel Cappe, a former high commissioner for Canada to the United Kingdom.
“But that only lasts until Dec. 31.”
That transition period can be extended by a year or two, if both the EU and the U.K. agree to do so by July 1.
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Immediately after Friday night, however, the U.K. loses its representation within EU institutions.
There are 73 U.K. seats within the European Parliament, all of which will be vacated.
Johnson will no longer be part of the European Council, either — the BBC reports he’ll have to be “specially invited” if he wants to attend the meetings with the heads of the 27 remaining EU member states.
As part of the deal, the U.K. has agreed to honour any of its financial obligations to the EU, though lawmakers have yet to work out what, exactly, the bill will be.
The U.K. will also no longer have representation at the executive branch of the EU, the European Commission. The country is also leaving the European Atomic Energy Community.
During the transition period, however, EU law will apply, and the Court of Justice of the European Union will continue to have jurisdiction over the U.K.
The task ahead
While Johnson may have campaigned on a slogan to “get Brexit done,” there’s still a lot to be taken care of.
“What they’ve agreed to do is to negotiate,” said Cappe, now a professor at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy at the University of Toronto.
U.K. celebrates in London as the clock hits Brexit hour for leaving the EU
In addition to what’s expected to be a very difficult process of arranging a deal with Europe, Johnson will also have to work with other countries to establish policy in areas of mutual concern.
According to a Financial Times estimate, the EU has 759 treaties with 168 nations around the world, Cappe pointed out. That includes 295 trade deals.
Most of the deals will be “pretty pro forma,” Cappe said. “And, you know, they can take what is the bilateral relationship between the European Union and Chad and adopt it for Britain if they want to. So, you know, they’re not worried about those,” he said.
“But insofar as it deals with Israel, as a major industrial power and an industrial performer in the Middle East, it probably does matter. And then there are foreign policy consequences.“
European Parliament passes Brexit withdrawal deal
What about Canada?
Of course, Brexit also leaves Canada without a free trade deal with the U.K.
Our government signed the Canada-European Union Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement in 2016. But it was a long road to get there.
The first discussions went back 20 years, Cappe recalled, and likewise, it could take a long time before another agreement can be established.
Both Canada and the U.K. may find common ground on many issues, but agriculture could be a complication, Cappe said.
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“What about Canadian lamb producers or producers of sorghum and lentils? We have a deal with the European Union. We don’t have one with Britain,” Cappe said.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said he believes, however, that Brexit will cause minimal impact on the Canadian economy.
“The greatest threat was on a so-called no-deal Brexit. They’ve avoided that,” Trudeau said Friday.
“We are very confident that we will minimize any disruptions to investment, to trade, to people-to-people ties with the United Kingdom.”
Trudeau said that his government has been engaged with the U.K. over the past few years to work out a transition plan.
Canada and the EU have already had early discussions about incorporating parts of CETA into a new bilateral deal, though a date for formal talks has not been set, the Canadian Press reported.
Brexit has sparked deep divisions within U.K. society that are unlikely to heal in the transition period or after the final deal is reached.
While England and Wales voted narrowly to leave the EU in the 2016 referendum, Scotland and Northern Ireland cast ballots to remain.
After Johnson’s Conservative Party won a landslide in the December election, Scottish lawmakers renewed their calls for another referendum on independence from the United Kingdom.
Johnson won’t allow another vote. He has said that the matter was decided in the 2014 referendum, in which 55.3 per cent of Scots voted to stay.
No one knows exactly what form Brexit will take in the end but the withdrawal agreement, which establishes the terms but not the details of the U.K.’s departure, does address some issues.
There have also been some indications of what the U.K. wants from a new deal.
The U.K.’s Brexit secretary told the BBC the country will be pushing for a no-tariff, no-quota arrangement with the EU.
On immigration, Johnson has said he will introduce a points-based system that he claims will allow skilled people into the country while barring entry to others. As for the estimated 3.5 million EU citizens currently living in Britain, they have until at least the end of December to register to retain their rights.
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The deal is also intended to allow an estimated one million U.K. citizens to continue living elsewhere in the EU.
Both parties have already worked towards allaying concerns that Brexit would divide Ireland with a hard border.
After the transition period, Northern Ireland will remain part of the U.K.’s customs territory but will also be aligned with the EU’s customs code. No customs checks will be performed on the boundary between the republic — which remains an EU country — and Northern Ireland. Instead, the process will occur as goods enter Northern Ireland.
— With files from the Canadian Press, the Associated Press and Reuters
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