Why is Brexit so complicated? | CNBC Explains

It was on June 23 of 2016, yes, more than three years ago,

that voters in the U.K. said they wanted to leave the European Union.

Yet, the process that’s known as Brexit has proven difficult.

Initially, the U.K. was set to leave the EU on the 29 of March of 2019.

However that departure date has been delayed on three occasions.

So why is it taking so long?

Let’s rewind back to 2016. The results for the EU Referendum were in,

and they indicated U.K. voters were profoundly divided over the United Kingdom’s membership in the EU.

The outcome of the referendum was close: 51.9% for leave and 48.1% for remain.

This split vote opened the door to tough questions that, until then, had not really been considered in detail.

Perhaps the biggest question of them all was this:

People voted mostly to leave the EU, but what sort of departure did they want?

A total breakup from the EU?

Or a negotiated exit that would retain some of the trade and travel agreements from before?

Under the leadership of Theresa May,

the U.K. government decided to work towards a deal with Brussels.

"The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union, and my job is to get the right deal for Britain as we do."

The catch was that the EU required that these negotiations be done in two phases:

First, the U.K. and the EU would have two years to agree on how the exit should be done.

Only after that, and with the U.K. already outside of the EU, they could begin to put together

an agreement on their future relationship. This includes any trade deals.

Phase one of Brexit proved difficult.

The U.K. and the other 27 European countries had to find solutions for a lot of policy areas.

How much money does the U.K. owe the EU according to previous financial commitments?

What sorts of benefits would U.K. citizens living in the EU, and vice-versa, have post-Brexit?

Do tourists need visas to move across the English Channel?

How about from Ireland to Nothern Ireland?

So, these negotiations took some time.

In fact it took more than one year to put together a withdrawal agreement,

which laid out the conditions by which the U.K. would leave the EU.

But this was not the end of phase one. The U.K. parliament still had to approve that agreement

before it could be implemented.

U.K. lawmakers raised a number of issues about the agreement

and said no to the deal three times. Their biggest area of contention was an insurance policy that would,

according to several members of parliament, divide Northern Ireland from the rest of the U.K.,

the so-called Irish backstop.

For six months, Theresa May tried to reassure lawmakers that her deal was the best possible way

to leave the EU, saying an abrupt exit would be difficult for citizens and businesses.

That did not work. So Theresa May tried to get new commitments from the EU

but that was not enough for U.K. lawmakers either.

Eventually, Theresa May’s premiership would come to an end.

She did not have enough support for her vision of how to deliver Brexit.

" serve the country I love."

And so, in July of 2019, the Conservative Party elected a new prime minister - Boris Johnson.

"We're going to get Brexit done on October 31."

Boris Johnson reopened talks with the other 27 European countries

and claimed that he replaced the controversial Irish backstop.

So, he went back to the U.K. Parliament in late October to get the necessary approval from U.K. lawmakers.

They said yes to Boris Johnson’s plan. However there was a big caveat.

The lawmakers demanded more time to approve necessary laws,

meaning that another extension to Brexit, at this point the third one, was required.

Boris Johnson, who was against another delay to Brexit, told lawmakers,

"Okay you can have more time, but in return we should have a new general election."

"We've got to the stage where we have no choice."

Despite how long it’s taking to negotiate this first deal, some argue that trade talks will take even longer.

Britain’s former ambassador to the EU, Sir Ivan Rogers, said it could take up to 10 years to put together.

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