Brexit for Dummies

Jake Bolton is a comedy writer living in London. You can follow them on Twitter @jakebolton.

Luca D'Urbino

Luca D'Urbino

Brexit. Like my relationship status during university, it’s complicated and everyone around me is sick of hearing me complaining about it. A lot of us don’t fully understand it, and just when we think we do it suddenly all changes. With that in mind, I’ve written this piece to bring you up to speed, even if you’ve understood nothing about it since the vote happened. Let’s start by explaining some key terms:

Brexit: A very bad idea that some very bad people convinced a lot of very uninformed people was a very good idea.

May’s Deal: Not actually a final Brexit deal, but rather a mutual agreement between the EU and the UK to enter a two year transition period after the 29th of March deadline. During this period, a final deal would be negotiated to sort out things that have not yet been sorted out, including the Northern Irish border. May’s deal states that if by the end of this two year period there is no solution to this problem, then the backstop would be initiated.

Backstop: The Brexit failsafe. Like a nuclear arsenal, the idea is that you hope it will never be used. The Northern Irish border is a bit of a contentious issue (see most of Irish history) and a complicated one. The border is literally all over the road. In some instances, different sides of the same road are in different countries, so that to overtake someone you have to move out of the UK into the EU and then back into the UK again. Imagine you had to introduce a passport check at every stage of the manoeuvre, and you can begin to understand the problem. If the backstop is initiated, then either just Northern Ireland or the whole of the UK (it isn’t clear which) would remain in the customs union until it was sorted out. There’s no legal agreement when the backstop would end once it’s started, and this is the main point of contention MPs have with May’s deal.

Customs Union: Agreement between all EU countries that we don’t charge each other to move goods between countries, and we all charge the same rate of import tariffs to goods entering the union. Essentially meaning the EU trades like a single country. If you understand this then you are smarter than Donald Trump, who has repeatedly asked Angela Merkel for a US-German trade deal when it is only possible to have a deal with the EU as a whole. Ignoring xenophobia (and we shouldn’t) leaving the customs union is arguably the main reason people voted to leave the EU. That way we can make our own trade deals and impose our own tariffs. If we get stuck in the backstop and remain inside the customs union, then we would still have to follow EU trading rules without getting a say in what those rules are.

No Deal: Leaving the EU on the 29th of March without an agreement. We would default on world trade organisation trading rules and there would be a hard border in Northern Ireland overnight. You can get an idea of what this would be like by the fact that its supporters compare it to the Blitz. Parliament have voted to block this, but it is still the legal default if no deal is made before the deadline.

Brexit Extension: Delaying the departure of the UK from the EU, by either months or years or anywhere in between.

Now let’s talk about some of the key players in Brexit:

Theresa May: Possibly still the Prime Minister. Wants to delay Brexit until only the 30th of June to force MPs into voting for her deal or allowing a no deal Brexit, which they have already voted against. Has said she will not allow an extension past the 30th of June as long as she is prime minister.

Jeremy Corbyn: Who?

Donald Tusk: President of the EU council. He has said he wants to delay Brexit by at least a year and to give the people a chance to decide on the final outcome of Brexit. He recently said he would approve an extension to the 30th of June if parliament back May’s deal before the 29th of March. But…

John Bercow: The speaker of the house of commons. A Tory MP who isn’t allowed to vote and yells ORDER a lot. Citing parliamentary convention that dates back to 1604 that prevents MPs from voting on the same legislation multiple times, he has said that he will not allow a third vote on May’s deal.

Jacob Rees-Mogg: No.

Still confused? Yes, so am I. Basically there are three main groups in a Mexican standoff. The UK government headed by May, who want to leave the EU on the 30th of June with May’s deal. They want to shoot both the EU and parliament. The EU headed by Tusk, who want a lengthy delay to Brexit with the possibility to end it completely. They don’t really want to shoot but will shoot whoever gets shot first out of the UK government or parliament. And UK parliament, ceremonially headed by Bercow, who isn’t quite sure what it wants but knows that it really wants to shoot somebody. So what’s going to happen this week? In short: fuck knows. But here are some possibilities:

  1. No one backs down. Bercow doesn’t allow a third vote, Tusk won’t allow an extension to the 30th of June and May won’t allow an extension past the 30th of June. The UK leaves on the 29th of March with no deal.

  2. Tusk backs down, allows an extension until the 30th of June for May to try and get her deal passed, we have this same conversation in another three months.

  3. Bercow backs down, allows a third vote on May’s deal and it passes. We leave on the 30th of June with May’s deal.

  4. Bercow backs down, allows a third vote on May’s deal and it fails. May either drags us out with no deal against the wishes of parliament on the 29th of March, or resigns and a new prime minister (probably Jeremy Hunt, sorry everyone) seeks a lengthy Brexit delay. The EU could still turn around and deny us this.

Which of these options is most likely to happen? I have no idea, and anyone that claims to is lying to you. I can tell you that Tusk and the EU council will almost certainly not back down without that third vote or a long extension. This is mostly a fight between parliament and government. And seeing as Theresa May went on TV Wednesday night and blamed the entire situation on parliament, I can’t see either side conceding easily.

This dispute can be traced right back to the beginning of the Brexit negotiations, when parliament demanded that they be involved in them and May’s government said no, then acted all surprised when they refused to vote for the plan she denied them a say in. She’s now either recklessly bringing us to a cliff-edge to hold parliament hostage so they are forced to vote for her deal, or skillfully bringing us to a cliff-edge to expertly persuade parliament to vote for her deal, depending on your allegiances.

So there we are. That’s where we are at the moment of writing. The trouble with Brexit explainers is that they go out of date so quickly. If you’re reading this more than half a day after it’s been published then the chances are that everything I’ve written is now completely useless. Hopefully, this piece has made the current Brexit situation a little easier to understand, if not any easier to comprehend.