As of February 1, 2020, the UK is no longer a part of the European Union. A referendum held in June 2016 had 52% of voters choosing to leave the EU, but the actual departure from the EU and the entrance into a transition period begins on February 1 and will last until December 31, 2020. The delay between the vote and the actual separation involved the negotiation of a withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU, most of which was negotiated during the Theresa May government, and involved three rejections of May’s proposals by Parliament. Boris Johnson, the current PM, called an early election and formed a Conservative majority of 80 seats, which enabled the government to move forward with a separation deal.
“Brexit” is a portmanteau of “Britain” and “Exit” and refers to the long saga between the referendum vote in 2016 and the actual implementation now in 2020. The UK is the first country ever to leave the EU, after 46 years of membership. Not all questions have been answered, however, because EU membership involved the sharing of multiple public services such as law enforcement, data sharing, aviation standards, marine rights, energy agreements, immigration policies, trade agreements, customs enforcement, and medical regulations. With the withdrawal of the UK from the EU, all of these arrangements need to be re-established between the UK and the EU within the transitional period that lasts until December 31.
As the UK resides on a series of islands, establishing customs and immigration borders with the rest of the EU should not involve a massive amount of spending, but it does share a border with the Republic Of Ireland, which is an EU state. Northern Ireland, as part of the UK, will join in separation from the EU, and as a result a customs and immigration border will be built between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. This was a serious area of contention among MPs, with a debate going on for years over a “backstop” that would have ensured that no border posts or barriers were built between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. That backstop was removed by the Conservative-led Parliament, allowing Brexit to move forward without it.
Following the formal withdrawal date, Johnson intends to take his entire staff to Sunderland for a special meeting to discuss his “leveling up” agenda.