At 11 pm on December 31, the United Kingdom (UK) finally ended its close ties with the European Union (EU), finishing the Brexit process that started almost four years ago. The UK now no longer needs to follow EU rules.
On January 31, 2020, the UK officially left the EU. But both sides still needed to reach an agreement setting the rules for how things will work in many important areas. The deadline for reaching that agreement was set for December 31.
Even into late December, both sides were saying it was unlikely that they would reach a deal. But finally, on December 24, the UK government announced that a deal had been made.
The 27 countries remaining in the EU approved the deal on December 28. The UK Parliament rushed to consider the agreement, finally voting to approve the deal on December 30, less than 24 hours before the deadline.
The new agreement is over 1,200 pages long, and covers important areas like how things are bought and sold between the two sides, and how they’ll work together in areas like security or medicine.
Perhaps most importantly, the two sides agreed not to put taxes on items that are bought and sold between the UK and the EU. That will help many companies stay in business by keeping prices lower all through Europe.
But selling those items will be harder, since it will require more paperwork, and shipments will often need to be checked as they cross borders. The British government says the new paperwork required by the deal will cost UK companies about $9.6 billion every year.
It will also be much more complicated for people to travel back and forth. Before Brexit, people from the UK and the EU could travel freely between the two areas. Now, they must have current passports. UK citizens hoping to study, live, or work in Europe will require special permission.
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UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the deal “historic”, and celebrated the fact that the UK will no longer have to follow EU rules. “We’ve taken back control of our laws,” he said.
But many people in the UK aren’t so happy about Brexit. Many people in Scotland, an important part of the UK, are now pushing for Scotland to become independent so that it can rejoin the EU.
Still, most people agree that it is far better for the two sides to have reached an agreement than for the UK to have “crashed out” of the EU without a deal. Though a “no deal” Brexit would have been hard on both sides, the UK, which is far smaller, would have suffered more.
So far, the deal hasn’t changed much in the day-to-day life of people in the UK. Because the deal was passed during a holiday period, traffic between the two sides was slow anyway. But Michael Gove, who’s in charge of Brexit for the UK government warned that there will be “bumpy moments” in the future.
Did You Know…?
As it has struggled with the challenge of Brexit, the UK’s government has gone through three prime ministers. On December 31, Stanley Johnson, the father of the current prime minister, Boris Johnson, applied to become a citizen of France.
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