Island politics

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I would like to discuss Brexit once more. It seems to me like it was not that long ago the British voted on whether or not they wanted to exit the European Union, but coming Wednesday the vote will be 1000 days ago. Maybe not exactly a reason for a celebration, but is a valid reason for an article. In order to really have no understanding whatsoever of what is happening in the United Kingdom you must have been laying under a gigantic rock, but to summarize for the people who recently woke up from a coma: in June of 2016 the population of the United Kingdom voted on whether or not they wanted to leave the European Union. With a small majority the party supporting the Brexit won, and since then the news on Brexit has kept flowing in. The Prime Minister resigned, the foremost leaders of the Brexit movement did not want to become the new Prime Minister and in the end Theresa May, who originally supported the ‘Stay’ side, became the new Prime Minister who had to implement the Brexit.

 The Brexit is currently planned on the 29th of march on 23.00. That will be the official moment that the Brexit will happen, at least at the moment. The past few weeks there has been more news than usual on Brexit. There was the battle between May and the parliament on the deal she made with the European Union, which almost caused her to have to resign. Last week May tried to have parliament approve a deal, but this one too failed. Afterwards there were more votes, which ruled that there should be no Brexit without a deal in place, and furthermore that the Brexit will be postponed at least for three months. The problem with this last decision is that the date can only be changed if all 27 EU members agree to it, so nothing is certain at the moment.

The United Kingdom is in an impossible position. There are three things they would like to obtain, but of which they can only get two. First of all: the nation wants a hard Brexit. That is the only way to get rid of all the rules and regulations of the European Union. There should be a hard border between the EU and the United Kingdom. The problem with this is that Northern Ireland is also a part of the United Kingdom. If there were to be a hard border, there would need to be a border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. In the past a border like that existed, but that led to great tension as well as violence. If there were another hard border, violence would not be unthinkable. So, the second thing the United Kingdom would like: no hard border between the Ireland and Northern Ireland. But where should the border be? You could choose to place it between the islands of Ireland and Great Britain, but then Northern Ireland would partially remain in the European Union, which is also not ideal. Furthermore, at the Brexit vote Northern Ireland primarily voted to stay. If Northern Ireland were split up from Great Britain, it would not be unthinkable that Northern Ireland would join Ireland to become one country, and to join the EU again. Of course, none of this is an option for the United Kingdom, so there you have the third goal: no border dividing the UK and Northern Ireland. But of course, these things cannot all be combined.

If the United Kingdom chooses to continue with the Brexit, they can currently pick three options. There could be a hard Brexit with a border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, but this can lead to violence. There could be a hard Brexit with a border between Ireland and Great Britain, but this would mean Northern Ireland would be split up from the UK. And if they chose to make the border more flexible? Then the problems mentioned before would not occur, but also there would not be a hard Brexit, which would upset many conservatives in the United Kingdom. Currently there is no right or optimal choice here, and it only gets more complicated when you realise that the conservative party in the UK only has a majority in parliament because of a coalition with a Northern Irish party. What are the views of this party? And what happens if May decides to go against them?

Whenever I see news on Brexit I am happy we live in the Netherlands. Of course we have our own fights and discussions, but at least we do not have to worry about a Nexit. It is a bit frightening to think about all of the economic consequences of the Brexit and what it will mean for the Netherlands. I just hope that when there is a Brexit the transition will go smooth. The only thing we can do now is wait an guess of what is to come. One last thing I realised: imagine that the Brexit is delayed by three months. That would mean all 27 EU members would have to agree on it, but imagine for once that the date of the Brexit would be on the 29th of June. This year we have the European Parliament elections, and they are in May. Would that mean that the United Kingdom gets to vote for who they want in the European Parliament, only to have them have to leave a month later? It is still all speculation of course, but I am curious to see where it leads.

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