The European integration process is certainly the most advanced and remarkable example of regional integration unequalled so far in any other parts of the world even though some lighter forms of regional integration have been more or less modelled on the EU.
The European regional integration seemed to be unstoppable and unbreakable despite the many political and economic crises it sailed through since the 70s and more recently in the past decade.
Yet for the first time in its history, one of its largest and most politically and economically powerful Member States, the UK, took in 2016 the extraordinary decision to leave the EU.
Until the adoption of the Lisbon treaty in 2009, membership to the EU was for life as the original Treaty of Rome and its subsequent amending Treaties never included a clause of withdrawal.
Inspired from Article I-60 of the Treaty establishing a Constitution for Europe, Article 50 TEU recognised for the first time the right of Member State to withdraw voluntarily and unilaterally from the EU.
Ironically, this new provision was designed by its drafters to deter the EU MS from actually withdrawing from the EU. Yet, it is this very provision that enabled the triggering of one of the most extraordinary and unprecedented event in EU history ie the withdrawal of the UK or Brexit.
This was decided following a referendum that took place on 23 June 2016. The results were 51.9% “Leave” and 48.1% “Stay” and the turnout was 71.8% representing more than 30 million people. However, while England (the largest country) and Wales voted overwhelmingly in favour of leave, Scotland and NI voted for remain
Following the triggering of Article 50 TEU by the UK, a 2 year period for negotiations and preparations for Brexit started with an official leave of the UK from the EU being scheduled for 29 March 2019.
After months of more difficult, complex and protracted negotiation than originally expected in the UK, the current Prime Minister Theresa May managed to bring home a “Brexit Deal” consisting of a 585-page withdrawal agreement and a 26-page statement of the future relations between the UK and the EU.
The Withdrawal Agreement, a legally-binding document, include mainly provisions on the financial settlement (how much money the UK owes the EU), the protection of the status and rights of EU citizens in the UK and the UK citizens in the EU27, and a solution for preventing the return of the physical border between the two Irelands.
The Statement, which is not legally binding, outlines the long-term relationship between the UK and EU in various areas such as trade, defense, and security.
Yet on 15 January, the British Parliament rejected the whole deal with 432 votes against and 202 votes for on the ground that the deal would tie the UK to the EU indefinitely while having no say over EU rules, and would put the UK in an even worse position than if the UK remained a MS.
This spanner in the clockwork has thrown Britain into further and greater chaos.
Four key questions can be asked:
1.Was Brexit unpredictable and inevitable?
2.What lessons can be drawn from the negotiating process?
3.What are the current scenarios?
4.What will be the potential consequences of Brexit?
Dadomo, C. (2019, February). Brexit: Chronicles of a crisis foretold. Presented at The European Union – Change, Transformation and Challenges, Larnaca, Cyprus