The UK officially left the EU on 31 January and is now embarking on an 11-month transition period during which formal trade negotiations will take place.
Brexit has undoubtedly been an arduous process, costing two British Prime Ministers their jobs and dividing families the length and breadth of the country. However, since Boris Johnson won a landslide victory in December’s election with a mandate to ‘get Brexit done‘, the UK had been heading inexorably towards the EU exit door.
The final hurdle in the 1,317-day saga was safely cleared when the European Parliament rubber-stamped the Withdrawal Agreement on 29 January. And, at the stroke of 11pm on 31 January, the UK ceased to be a member of the EU; the divorce had finally been sealed.
In many ways, however, while Brexit day carried huge political symbolism – with a commemorative 50p coin minted to mark the occasion – little will change initially as the country enters a transition period due to last until 31 December 2020. So, while UK citizens are no longer EU citizens, the country remains in the EU single market and customs union and will continue to follow EU rules.
More significant changes are likely to occur on 1 January 2021, the UK’s first scheduled day outside of EU rules. And what happens then will depend upon the type of deal the UK manages to negotiate with the EU. Formal trade talks are due to start towards the end of February or early March with the British government’s stated aim to secure a ‘zero tariff, zero quota‘ free trade deal by the end of 2020.
With trade deals typically taking years to conclude, there is scepticism that negotiations can be completed within such a short timescale. However, while reaching agreement on a comprehensive deal by the end of 2020 may prove elusive, securing a ‘bare bones‘ package covering areas such as trade, fisheries and security certainly could be achievable.