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Friday 27 January 2023 Dublin: 5°C
# an age and a day
Brexit is happening this Friday - here's why you won't notice much changing
It had seemed like this day would never come – and on 31 January it still might feel like it hasn’t come at all.

THE UK WILL officially leave the European Union at 11pm on Friday 31 January – but nothing will be noticeably different for people until the start of next year.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had, for a brief period, asked people to “bung a bob for Big Ben to bong” - basically, to crowdfund £500,000 to get the iconic clock tower to ring - but this failed to gather much momentum, so those bells won’t ring.

The Brexit Party has received permission to hold a celebration in Trafalgar Square – but without fireworks.

It’s been three years since the UK voted to leave the EU, in June 2016; since then the country’s parliament and people have been locked into a debate about how they wanted to act on that vote.

Among the options discussed were amicably agreeing a Brexit deal with the EU, walking away and leaving the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement, and revoking Article 50 to reverse the entire Brexit process (this won’t be an option anymore after Friday). 

After a clandestine-esque meeting with Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Johnson and the EU struck a Brexit ‘divorce deal’, or Withdrawal Agreement last autumn.

Assuming the European Parliament votes the deal through as it’s expected to on Wednesday 29 January, the definite and final Brexit date is now Friday 31 January 2020 (the previous Brexit leave dates were 29 March, 12 April, and 31 October.) 

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So what will happen on the day? The UK will legally leave the EU at 11pm on 31st – the reason for that time is that equates to midnight in Brussels.

The UK’s representation in the European Parliament will be retracted, meaning it will have no more MEPs. The UK has 73 MEPs as it stands, so other countries will get a few new MEP seats: Ireland had 11, and will increase to 13, for example.

Fine Gael’s Deirdre Clune, and Fianna Fáil’s Barry Andrews were elected in the European elections on 24 May last year, but haven’t taken their seats, as they were waiting for Brexit to officially happen. Clune and Andrews haven’t been paid since being elected.

The UK will have officially left the EU and will then enter the transition period, where the UK remains in the Single Market and the Customs Union to give people, government and businesses time to prepare for the new trading rules and standards that will come in after the transition period (what exactly these are has yet to be decided).

The transition period is to last until 31 December 2020. The UK has the option to extend the transition period for another one or two years, which Johnson has said he wouldn’t do.

So taking that at face value, the UK will have left the Single Market and Customs Union on 1 January 2021.

The Brexit trade negotiations are the next phase, and a crucial one: they will decide customs arrangements for Northern Ireland, and the EU’s new trading relationship with the UK.

Johnson is promising to have this all negotiated by the end of the transition period, so 11 months’ time, which seems impossible by comparative standards: for reference, other EU trade talks have dragged on for much longer:

  • Canada deal: 8.5 years
  • Japan: 6.5 years
  • Mercosur: 20 years so far

If Johnson wants to extend the transition period, he has until 1 July to request a one-time only extension for either one or two years.

In short, by 11pm 31 January, the UK will have legally left the European Union, British MEPs will leave the European Parliament and new “cold storage” MEPs will take their seats, and it won’t be possible to revoke Article 50 to reverse the Brexit process.


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