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On December 31st, 2020, European communities saw significant changes in their life constellations, primarily in their political and economic sectors. This wretched day marked the end of the transition period for the UK to finally leave the European Union. It has been 47 years since the UK became an official European Union member back in 1973. Most realists would say that the reason for this departure is simply the European Union’s incapability to satisfy the UK’s interests, and that the UK cannot harness any benefits from the institution itself (Mearsheimer, 1994). But how exactly true is this statement? Will the UK even reap any benefit after leaving the European Union? Or is the UK actually going to lose more possible advantages in the coming future?

The notion of the UK leaving the European Union first emerged when the Conservative Party had called the referendum in 2015 (Amadeo, 2021). The referendum resulted in nationwide voting polls, which later showed that most British citizens opted to leave the European Union. In total, with over 33.551.983 votes, there were 17,410,742 votes of British people who desired to leave the European Union, or about 51,89% (Electoral Commission, 2019). This number came from disgruntled Conservatives and old working people who opposed European Union membership (Clarke et al., 2017, p. 2). Said opposition developed such a stance upon their disappointment towards the European Union conditions on different aspects, such as struggle on economic growth after the great recession, pain over high unemployment across European continents, and lack of development competitiveness (Clarke et al., 2017, p. 2). Based on the number of voting, the British Parliament started to propose withdrawing the UK membership in the European Union in 2016. After four years, the UK can finally leave the European Union with a one year transition period after a lengthy discussion on the table and lobbying among politicians.

This departure means many things for many people. There were many departments heavily affected, settlements renegotiated, and of course, some loss of benefits. However, one of the most noticeable changes is that the UK’s status quo is being challenged. Nothing remains the same. Thus, moving on from this section, it is crucial to cover all essential consequences of the UK’s departure from the European Union under different circumstances.

The European continent is well known for its integrated singular market that serves every economic agent across European countries. This integrated singular market, or simply “the Single Market,” was built to promote a free-trade area within the European continent. Through this free-trade area, the market can help remove obstacles in cross-border economic activity by implementing some trade policies, tackle challenges that come from distorted activities conducted by companies, and establish a standard external commercial policy (Armstrong, 2017, p. 127). As many European countries deem this beneficial for promoting their trade across the continent and engaging in cooperation with non-EU states, this case might not currently apply to the UK.

In the past years, the UK was considered one of the single market players. Even though the European Commission deemed the UK as a country with low trade integration in the single market (European Commission, 2020), the European Union was one of the largest trading partners for the UK, occupying 43% and 53% of the UK’s trade data, export and import respectively (Ward, 2020, p. 2). Nevertheless, the UK deemed these benefits and market access dissimilar to the UK’s real responsibility in the institution. The UK does not have the pleasure of freely choosing its own trade policies as all European Union members are bound to follow the Single Market scheme and implement trade policies (Armstrong, 2017, p. 135). When the UK steel industries were under the compromise of the restructurations conducted by Tata Steel and the European Union cooperation with Chinese steel, the UK felt that the European Union had failed to protect fair trade for European communities (Armstrong, 2017, p. 131). Hence, the UK believed that this dissatisfaction is enough reason to leave the supranational organisation altogether. 

Things became interesting when one realizes what the UK reaped after their departure. During the 2017 World Economic Forum in Davos, Prime Minister Theresa May mapped out the “Global Britain” strategy for post-Brexit Britain (Armstrong, 2017, p. 151). This strategy mainly consists of the UK’s plan on engaging trade cooperation between external parties. Shockingly, this strategy has never been executed until now. Data has shown that the UK’s trade plunged in the first quarter after Brexit, with contractions of  18% and 22% in export and import, respectively (Goldstein, 2021). Either caused by Brexit or the current COVID-19 pandemic, the UK will have to face the failure of its trade system for quite some time. On the other hand, while the UK focussed on renegotiating with other non-EU states relating their business relationship (Edgington, 2021), the UK also had to face trade problems with Northern Ireland. This is due to a new divorce deal that created further barriers designed to protect an open north-south border on the island of Ireland (Sandford, 2021).

Along with economic trials, the UK also has to face societal turbulence, especially those regarding migration and people movement. One of the more essential cases is the single European Union regional policy that controls members’ borders and territory; or the Territorial Cohesion policy. Developed after the Lisbon Treaty and the European Union’s new high-level strategy, this policy was implemented to improve territorial cohesion between European countries by promoting a functional approach to integrate the development of territories as spaces where citizens live their lives, fostering place-based policies through cross-sectoral coordination of policies and multi-level governance from local to European. All this is done to encourage operation between territories, strengthen European integration, and improve knowledge of domains to guide their development (European Commission, n.d.). Thus, the European citizens can live wherever they want without worrying about access to public services, efficient transport, reliable energy networks and broadband internet throughout the territory (European Commission, n.d.). This policy makes every single European Union member live in harmony, including the British, wherever they are in the continent.

However, after what happened on December 31st, 2020, this cohesion was broken partially. The UK, which has departed from the institution, is no longer under the rules of territorial cohesion, meaning there is no longer a linkage between the UK and other European Union member states. The UK lost the European Union passport, and the British have to use their one and only English passport to travel to other European Union member states. Situations become more complicated since British immigration now has to check and verify every traveller, including European citizens, who want to visit the UK. Along with that, British citizens must also be verified by other European Union states’ immigrations when visiting other European Union countries. This complexity also can be seen by the UK dispute with France over a fishing control issue in Jersey, an area on the British channels that shares its borders with France (Amaro, 2021). As to this, there are now several issues regarding fishing permits since the UK is no longer acknowledged by the European Union’s fishery rules. The tension in the area escalated with the deployment of navy patrols from both countries. Nevertheless, the dispute was finally de-escalated by a new trade policy made by both countries with some conditionalities where the UK will get a more significant share of fish (Amaro, 2021).

To conclude this article, the writer sees that the UK’s departure from the European Union was rushed and full of miscalculations over benefits’ shares. The UK has to face a failure in their trade system for a while. They also have to renegotiate with other countries, either European Union states or non-EU states, to reestablish business channels with those countries. Besides that, the UK needs to feel the unnecessary insecurities over borders when French fishermen come by and the complex immigrations process for travellers.


Amadeo, K. (2021, March 12). What Was Brexit, and How Did It Impact the UK, EU, and the US? [Text]. The Balance.

Amaro, S. (2021, May 6). France and Britain deploy navy patrol boats to Jersey in dispute over fishing rights. CNBC.

Armstrong, K. A. (2017). Brexit Time: Leaving the EU – Why, How and When? Cambridge University Press.

Clarke, H. D., Goodwin, M. J., & Whiteley, P. (2017). Brexit Introduced. In Brexit: Why Britain voted to leave the European Union (pp. 1–10). Cambridge University Press.

Edgington, T. (2021, February 8). Brexit: What trade deals has the UK done so far? BBC News.

Electoral Commission. (2019, September 25). Results and turnout at the EU referendum. Electoral Commission.

European Commission. (n.d.). Territorial cohesion [Text]. European Union. Retrieved 28 May 2021, from

European Commission. (2020). United Kingdom—Performance per Member State—The Single Market Scoreboard—European Commission. Single Market Scoreboard.

Goldstein, S. (2021, May 25). U.K. trade with the European Union plunges in first quarter after Brexit [Text]. MarketWatch.

Mearsheimer, J. J. (1994). The False Promise of International Institutions. International Security, 19(3), 5–49. JSTOR.

Sandford, A. (2021, April 11). 100 days on, what impact has Brexit had on UK-EU trade? Euronews.

Ward, M. (2020). Statistics on UK-EU trade (Briefing Paper No. 7851). House of Commons Library.

Fraka Dawa Putra Agswenko is an International Relations student in Universitas Indonesia. He can be found on Instagram with the username @rrakaputrra

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