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Five burning questions on Brexit

Theresa May decides to fire the starting gun on Britain\'s EU departure talks is a central question in the Brexit debate.

Published: 06th September 2016 07:59 PM  |   Last Updated: 06th September 2016 07:59 PM   |  A+A-

Brexit Reuters

A Vote Leave supporter holds up a Union flag outside Downing Street after Britain voted to leave on the European Union in London, Britain.| Reuters

By AFP

LONDON: The British government faces pressure to outline a plan for Brexit two-and-a-half months after the country voted to leave the European Union.

In a speech to parliament this week in which he gave little detail, Brexit minister David Davis was heckled by lawmakers crying: "Waffle!" and "Is that it?"

Here are the five key questions for Britain:

Timing

Exactly when Prime Minister Theresa May decides to fire the starting gun on Britain's EU departure talks is a central question in the Brexit debate.

She has said she will not do this "before the end of the year". Senior minister Liam Fox, who campaigned for Brexit, has said he is aiming for Britain to be out of the European Union in 2019.

Invoking Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty will begin a two-year countdown during which Britain has to negotiate an exit deal with Brussels or face the possibility of being automatically excluded when the time is up.

Some British media reports have said that Britain could wait until after France's presidential election in May 2017 and even German elections due by October 22 next year at the latest.

Brexit campaigners have warned May that a delay could be seen as an attempt to avoid leaving the EU.

Davis responded to the criticism on Monday saying: "I would rather be one month late and get it right than one month early and get it wrong".

Status of current EU migrants

From fruit pickers to professors, baristas to builders, Britain has a population of citizens from other EU countries estimated at around 3.3 million and who are a key part of the economy.

A sharp increase in migration into Britain came after the EU's enlargement to eastern Europe in 2004, with Polish and Romanian migrants making up the bulk.

Since the eurozone crisis, there has also been an upsurge in arrivals from Italy, Portugal and Spain.

May has said she "expects to be able" to guarantee the status of EU citizens already living in Britain post-Brexit but has said this will be contingent on the rights of British citizens living in the EU being protected.

The number of British citizens living in other countries in the EU -- many of them retirees in France and Spain -- is estimated at around 1.3 million.

Future immigration policy

May has said she wants to limit the number of immigrants moving to Britain from other parts of the European Union but has not outlined exactly how to do this.

She ruled out an Australian-style immigration system that assigns points based on education and skills for would-be migrants, saying there was no "silver bullet" for limiting numbers.

British media on Tuesday reported that one possibility being considered by the government was a work permit system that would only allow EU citizens to move to Britain if they already had a job lined up.

Davis has said EU migrants arriving between now and Britain's departure from the bloc may not be guaranteed the right to remain, warning of a potential "surge" in arrivals before Brexit.

During the referendum campaign, Brexit advocates argued that immigrants have pushed down wages and overwhelmed public services in some parts of the country.

But pro-immigration campaigners say that overall, migrants make a net contribution to the British economy for reasons including their youth and tax payments.

Single market and trade

What access Britain will have to the EU's single market has emerged as the key dividing line between advocates of a "hard" or "soft" Brexit.

May wants "the best deal for trade, goods and services with the EU" but Brussels has made clear it would not allow Britain full access to the single market if it restricts the free movement of people, which the government also wants.

One possibility being considered, according to reports, is negotiating access to the EU's single market on a sector-by-sector basis.

Once it leaves, Britain will also have to work out its own trade deals with key countries -- something that is currently up to the European Commission.

May has said this would be "an opportunity to embrace new markets" for a country with a proud history as one of the world's great trading nations.

US President Barack Obama has warned Britain will be at the "back of the queue" in any trade negotiations but May has said she has already begun discussions with Australia, India, Mexico, Singapore and South Korea.

What about Scotland?

Within hours of the Brexit vote result, Scotland's pro-independence First Minister Nicola Sturgeon warned that a new referendum on separating from the United Kingdom was "highly likely".

While Britain as a whole voted by 52 percent to 48 percent to leave the EU, the result in Scotland was 62 percent to 38 percent in favour of staying.

Sturgeon launched a major new survey on independence to gauge whether public opinion has changed since a 2014 referendum in which Scotland voted by 55 percent to 45 percent in favour of staying.

May has promised to involve Scotland in Brexit negotiations but Sturgeon wants guarantees on retaining access to the single market, implying this could be the litmus test for whether she will seek a second independence vote or not.

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