Is Brexit really done?
The UK has formally separated from the EU, but controversy and uncertainty still reign on a number of hot-button issues.
The complex political separation that was Brexit has now effectively concluded, but the aftermath continues to stir controversy among both supporters and opponents, as well as between the governments of the United Kingdom and European Union. While the conclusion of this long political process comes at a time of widespread additional travel and trade disruptions owing to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the aftermath of Brexit continues to have important and far reaching effects on the future relationship of the United Kingdom to the European Union.
A final UK-EU trade deal took effect as the United Kingdom left the bloc on January 1, 2021. This agreed-upon deal prevented the introduction of major tariffs or quotas on goods that cross between the United Kingdom and the European Union, but trade restrictions at border crossings have still increased. Cross-border trade in services is much less protected under the deal, with now many British industries having to simultaneously comply with both UK and EU laws and regulations on the services they offer in order to maintain EU market access.
One of the most pronounced changes following the implementation of Brexit is the ending of the right of free movement and work between citizens of the United Kingdom and the European Union, as well as the reverse. This change will now require any European Union citizen who wants to live or work in the United Kingdom to first receive a visa before doing so, and would likewise require the same of any British citizen who wishes to live or work in any EU country.
One of the primary motivations for Brexit was to allow the United Kingdom to fashion its own trade agreements with non-EU countries, rather than being bound by the shared agreements between the European-bloc and outside countries. So far the United Kingdom has begun taking advantage of this, fashioning agreements with the vast majority of countries that had previous deals with the EU. These new agreements can have different terms and conditions than the previous, collective-EU agreements, leaving open the ability of the UK government seeking out new trade arrangements which they view as more appropriate for the British economy.
An area that has led to particular controversy is the border between the United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland. As the only land border between the United Kingdom and a European Union member state, there are unique considerations toward borders and trade in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Protocol was negotiated to continue many EU regulations there, and it came into force as Brexit took effect on January 1, 2021. This protocol keeps the UK-Ireland border free of any border checks, and instead requires border checks on certain goods that enter Northern Ireland from Great Britain. Controversy has stemmed from this protocol however, and the European Union has launched legal action against the UK for alleged unilateral changes to the agreement that relaxed some of these checks. The UK government has, for its part, claimed that pragmatism must be employed regarding the implementation of the protocol, and that checks on goods and trade must be simplified.
While there are numerous issues and challenges currently being faced by both the United Kingdom and the European Union owing to the current COVID-19 pandemic, the aftermath of Brexit continues to have its own important implications on borders and trade between the UK and EU. As the effects of the post-separation trade deal and Northern Ireland Protocol continue to cause controversy, it is almost certain that talks and negotiations between the governments will continue. With a response from the United Kingdom toward the legal action brought by the European Union set to occur soon, there is a possibility that the status quo of trade and border regulations will continue to change long after the formal conclusion of Brexit.