Britain ready to leave E.U. at end of this month

Antelope Valley Press - - FRONT PAGE - By PAN PYLAS

LON­DON — Britain of­fi­cially leaves the Eu­ro­pean Union on Jan. 31 af­ter a de­bil­i­tat­ing po­lit­i­cal pe­riod that has bit­terly di­vided the na­tion since the 2016 Brexit ref­er­en­dum.

Dif­fi­cult ne­go­ti­a­tions set­ting out the new re­la­tion­ship be­tween Britain and its Eu­ro­pean neigh­bors will con­tinue through­out 2020.

This se­ries of sto­ries chron­i­cles Britain’s tor­tured re­la­tion­ship with Eu­rope from the post-World War II years to the present.

With Tony Blair’s de­par­ture as Bri­tish prime min­is­ter in 2007, pro-Euro­peans lost a key voice at the heart of gov­ern­ment. His suc­ces­sor, long-time Trea­sury chief Gor­don Brown, was far more luke­warm. He even turned up late for the sign­ing of the Lis­bon Treaty, which amended the ex­ist­ing EU Treaties and in­cluded for the first time a mechanism by which a coun­try could leave the EU.

For the record, Ar­ti­cle 50 of the Lis­bon Treaty stated that any mem­ber state “may de­cide to with­draw from the Union in ac­cor­dance with its own con­sti­tu­tional re­quire­ments.” Its au­thor Lord Kerr didn’t think the U.K. would be the coun­try to use it.

Brown had other things on its mind. His time at the helm was marked by the great­est peace­time shock to af­flict the global econ­omy since the de­pres­sion of the 1930s. Fol­low­ing the col­lapse of U.S. in­vest­ment bank Lehman Broth­ers in Septem­ber 2008, the fi­nan­cial cri­sis went global.

Banks around the world, in­clud­ing big U.K. names such as Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scot­land, had to be bailed out by the taxpayer. Britain en­dured its deep­est re­ces­sion since World War

II. Although Brown won plau­dits for his han­dling of the cri­sis, he lost the 2010 gen­eral elec­tion, ush­er­ing in a coali­tion be­tween the eu­roskep­ti­cal Con­ser­va­tive Party and the very pro-EU Lib­eral Democrats.

With many in his party in­creas­ingly vexed by EU mem­ber­ship and with the U.K. In­de­pen­dence Party mak­ing head­way with its de­mand for a fresh vote on Britain’s mem­ber­ship in the EU, Con­ser­va­tive Prime Min­is­ter David Cameron was un­der pres­sure to show his eu­roskep­ti­cal teeth.

In 2011, Cameron ve­toed an EU treaty de­signed to help sta­bi­lize the euro, which was fight­ing for its life fol­low­ing a debt cri­sis, par­tic­u­larly in Greece. Cameron even­tu­ally de­cided that a ref­er­en­dum prom­ise on EU mem­ber­ship would help bind his party — much like Harold Wil­son had done with his Labour Party back in 1975.

Fol­low­ing the Wil­son play­book, Cameron said in a speech in Jan­uary 2013 that an­other ref­er­en­dum on the EU should take place af­ter a rene­go­ti­a­tion that would bring back pow­ers to Britain from the EU. He said demo­cratic con­sent for the EU in Britain was “wafer thin” and that an­other ref­er­en­dum was needed.

“I be­lieve in con­fronting this is­sue, shap­ing it, lead­ing the de­bate,” he said. “Not sim­ply hop­ing a dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion will go away.”

The pledge, though, de­pended on the Con­ser­va­tives win­ning a ma­jor­ity at the en­su­ing gen­eral elec­tion, some­thing they hadn’t done since 1992. Most poll­sters thought the 2015 elec­tion would re­sult in an­other hung Par­lia­ment or Labour re­turn­ing to power but Cameron did win that Con­ser­va­tive ma­jor­ity.

An­other ref­er­en­dum was on.


In this Dec. 13, 2007, file photo, Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Gor­don Brown, fore­ground, signs the EU’s Lis­bon Treaty in Lis­bon, Por­tu­gal. Brown, who was more cir­cum­spect about the Eu­ro­pean Union than his im­me­di­ate pre­de­ces­sor Tony Blair, turned up late for the sign­ing of the treaty.

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