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Brexit Day! What time it happens, what it means, what’s next, and why Scotland is flipping out

Prepare yourself for some chaos.

Brexit Day! What time it happens, what it means, what’s next, and why Scotland is flipping out
[Photos: Flickr user Chatham House; James Giddins/Unsplash]

Brexit is upon us. Finally. Today. If you, like us, have lost focus in the 3.5 years since British voters narrowly elected to leave the European Union (52% vs. 48%), here’s what’s happening:

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What exactly is going on today?

As of tonight, Britain will no longer be part of the European Union, the large block of countries between which people and goods can move freely with minimal checks and charges. Now Britain’s logistical relationships to its neighbors will be more akin to America’s relationships with Mexico and Canada.

When exactly is this happening?

6 p.m. EST, which is midnight in Brussels (February 1, 2020).

What’s next?

Get yourself a chair and some popcorn. Today is just the beginning, the equivalent of a wealthy married couple announcing their formal separation. The divorce fireworks are yet to come: New trade arrangements with Europe are supposed to be negotiated by December 31, which the New York Times calls “a perhaps impossible deadline,” pointing out that “Europe’s recent trade deals with Canada and Japan took seven years.” Businesses are bracing for potential chaos without a trade deal.

Why is Scotland in a kerfuffle?

Scottish voters opposed Brexit, and wanted to remain in the EU. Now members of Scottish Parliament are now pushing for a new independence vote. (Recall that Scotland voted to remain part of the U.K. back in 2014, but that was before Brexit.)

Anything else?

Yep. The U.K. also needs to negotiate numerous complicated details with the EU, including law enforcement sharing arrangements, aviation agreements, fishing waters access, utility supply partnerships, and medicine regulation. For further details, see the BBC’s excellent summary.

What will this mean for Britain’s markets?

Britain will continue to follow EU trade rules for the rest of the year. In Bloomberg’s roundup of decidedly mixed predictions, the immediate outlook is not good: Foreign investments have plummeted since the Brexit announcement three years ago, and the FTSE 100 has been underperforming for years. Two sure bets: 2020 will be a year of transition, and finance gurus will eye the current slump in British markets and currency as an opportunity.

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How the heck did this happen?

It’s been a years-in-the-making hot mess involving three prime ministers. Check out the New York Times’s winning explainer here.

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