Saturday, February 8, 2020

Brexit: UK Leaves European Union (Plus: What Actually Changed?)

Map of the European Union, including all member countries, official candidate countries, and potential candidate countries, as of February 2020, updated for Brexit - the departure of the UK and Gibraltar (colorblind accessible). Also file under: Map of European Union Member Countries.

Map by Evan Centanni, from blank map by Ssolbergj. License: CC BY-SA

Britain Finally Exits EU

Last week, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland - "UK" or "Britain" for short - became the first country ever to formally leave the European Union (EU).

This marks the turning point, but not the end, of the years-long saga nicknamed "Brexit" (short for "British exit"), which started with a 2016 referendum.

The long-delayed official exit finally arrived in the first second of February 1, 2020 at the EU headquarters in Belgium. Because of a time zone difference, this was 11:00 pm of January 31 in the UK. But because of a negotiated "transition period", most practical changes won't go into effect until at least the end of this year (read on for more about that).

The British territory of Gibraltar, located along the southern coast of Spain, was also pulled out of the EU alongside the UK.

Learn More: Which countries are and aren't in the EU, and which are still trying to join? 

Brexit: What Just Changed, and What Didn't?

Britain is officially considered to be outside the EU now, but most of the real changes haven't happened yet, and are delayed at least 11 months until the end of the transition period on December 31. According to the agreement it signed and passed into law, the UK has to continue following EU rules during this time.

That means that people from the UK will still be treated as EU citizens during the transition: They can still live, work, drive, and get healthcare and pensions in any other EU country as if they were a citizen of that country, and people from other parts of the EU will continue to have those same rights in the UK too. But all of this could change at the end of this year, depending on the details worked out during the transition.

Trade will also continue, for now, as if the UK was still part of the EU, with no customs checks or import taxes on anything being brought from other EU countries to the UK or vice versa. The UK will also continue paying its share of the EU budget, meaning that EU-funded programs will also continue operating in Britain at least until the end of the year.

UK Brexit vote map: Map of election results in Britain's June 2016 referendum on leaving the European Union (EU). Continuous red-to-blue color scheme gives a more honest depiction of the similarities between different election districts. Colorblind accessible.
The UK's 2016 Brexit referendum by constituency - how different areas voted

So, what did Brexit actually change?

There were a few changes that have gone into effect immediately. For one, the UK immediately loses all of its votes and representation in the EU government. Even Prime Minister Johnson won't be able to attend EU leaders' meetings unless they specifically invite him.

On the other hand, the UK is now allowed for the first time to start formally negotiating its own separate trade agreements with countries outside the EU, like the US and Australia. The country will also have to negotiate a new deal on how trade will work between it and the European Union, unless it wants to suddenly throw a wrench in the gears of its import and export industries at the end of the transition.

In smaller changes, the UK government will begin issuing new non-EU British passports, which will return to their traditional dark blue color instead of the EU's dark red. Meanwhile, Germany will immediately stop extraditing German criminals to the UK, since its constitution bans extradition except to other EU countries. That means that if a German citizen commits a crime in the UK and escapes to Germany, Germany won't send them back to the UK to answer for the crime (though it could still choose to put them on trial itself).

(Check out this BBC article to get more details on what will and won't change.)

The Brexit vote was almost four years ago. What were they doing all that time?

Originally planned for exactly two years after the results of the UK's 2016 Brexit referendum vote were put into effect by the country's prime minister, the actual Brexit moment was delayed three times by legislators before finally taking effect. For a quick summary of what was going on all that time, check out PolGeoNow's Concise Timeline of Brexit.

Map of How Britain Voted in the Brexit Referendum (Brexit Referendum by Constituency)
9 Geography Facts You Should Know About Brexit and Britain's EU Membership 
Why Does Brexit Matter? 5 Things that Might Change when Britain Leaves the EU
Photo Essay: British Territory Gibraltar and the Brexit Referendum 

Article by Evan Centanni. Country flags and associated HTML code from Wikipedia (licensed under CC BY-SA).