Brexit Bulletin: End of the Beginning

Days to Brexit: 0

(Bloomberg) -- What’s Happening? The U.K. departs the European Union today, 1,317 days after voting to leave.

Britain joined the European Economic Community on Jan. 1, 1973. This evening, 17,196 days later, it will leave the EU, setting the stage for 11 months of potentially fraught talks on future ties.

Big Ben won’t bong at 11 p.m., but Downing Street is marking the event with a prime ministerial address, a light show, a countdown clock and a party. Guests will eat roast beef and down English sparkling wine. Over in Parliament Square, Nigel Farage and his fellow Brexiters will rally under grey London skies. In Brussels, the EU will stage an intentionally muted farewell.

The low-key tone is because so much remains to be done. Britain may be legally out of the bloc, but Prime Minister Boris Johnson still has to reach a trade deal with the EU and start to heal some bitter domestic divisions.

Neither will be easy: the EU officials say they expect negotiations to get nasty and perhaps miss the year-end deadline. There are big battles ahead on what constitutes a level competitive playing field and over fishing rights, financial services, data protection, and the jurisdiction of EU law.

Domestically, Johnson also faces a struggle. The country now needs to forge a new identity, or at least find a version of its old one. For some voters, Brexit was a chance to reassert their Britishness. But it’s left others uncertain about whether they’re still welcome.

Little wonder, as Bloomberg Opinion columnist Therese Raphael points out, Johnson now wants to kill off the term “Brexit”. For business and many voters, though, the next 11 months will matter more than the past three-and-a-half years.

If Brexit has shown us one thing, it’s a capacity to surprise. Back in 2017, Britain looked certain to be heading for a mild form of Brexit, if any Brexit happened at all. Two years later, Britain is leaving the customs union and single market — ruptures once seen as unthinkable. In six months, Johnson has gone from backbencher to prime minister after winning the biggest Conservative majority in more than 30 years. 

The first chapter of Brexit is over. What comes will surely be no more predictable.

Brexit Must-Reads

Brexit in Brief

On the Markets | The pound is ending a tumultuous month on a high note, on course for its second weekly gain of the year after Thursday’s Bank of England rate decision. Analysts expect it to climb more than 1% to $1.33 by the end of June, according to a Bloomberg survey.

Brexit Bulletin: End of the Beginning

Fighting On | Scotland is digging in to its position as the last bastion of political resistance, Bloomberg’s Alastair Reid reports. In a speech today, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon reiterated her determination to secure a new independence referendum, but said any new vote must be legally water-tight.

What the Papers Say | British newspapers mark Brexit today in line with their well-known positions. The Telegraph, for example sounded a triumphant note, while Guardian columnist Gaby Hinsliff insisted Europe is “still alive in people’s hearts.” For the Financial Times, now is when “the hard work begins” a sentiment echoed by academic Anand Menon in the Guardian. The BBC has a full run-down of Friday’s U.K. front pages.

Exit Stamp | The British famously melted down a million 50 pence coins when Brexit was delayed. Now Austria’s postal service has released its official stamp — with March 29, 2019 crossed out and Jan. 31, 2020 typeset underneath. The sentimental goodbye from Brussels’s metro operator was a little more personal. German newspaper FAZ closes the day with a story headlined “Bye, bye, Love,” and a picture of British comedian John Cleese.

Brexit Bulletin: End of the Beginning

Looking Back | Before we focus relentlessly on the future, here’s one more peek into the past. We’ve made a video of all 816 Brexit Bulletin headlines, to help us all remember the drama of the past three-and-a-half years. Whatever happens next, it’s been memorable.

Want to keep up with Brexit?

You can follow us @Brexit on Twitter, and listen to Bloomberg Westminster every weekday.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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