On Friday evening, as the clock strikes 23:00 GMT, Britain will leave the European Union.
More than three and a half years since the EU referendum, during which the country has seen two general elections and much political wrangling, the wishes of 17.4 million Britons will be realised.
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But do not expect an end to the drama. January 31 marks a single page-turn in the Brexit odyssey and the next chapter could be just as fraught.
A transition period will run for at least 11 months, Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ideal timeframe, while negotiators thrash out the future relationship between the United Kingdom and the EU.
Unpicking 40 years of integration promises to be a testing process and there is scepticism on both sides of the English Channel.
Many are simply wondering: What next?
Here are five things to know:
What actually happens on February 1?
Little will change immediately. The UK will enter the transition period and it will be out of EU political institutions but still – for at least the next 11 months – ruled by EU laws.
Britons and EU nationals will continue to benefit from free movement and live in their countries under the rules and regulations they are used to.
When the divorce is finalised, free movement for British immigrants in EU countries will end, according to the Withdrawal Agreement, but they will be afforded rights.
EU nationals living in the UK are being urged to apply now for the UK’s EU Settlement Scheme, but they can wait until the deadline – June 30, 2021, if a deal is reached, or December 31, 2020, if the conclusion is a no-deal Brexit.
Will there be a UK-EU trade deal?
A trade deal is likely but not certain.
A comprehensive trade deal with the EU, the UK’s largest trading partner, is the British government’s ultimate goal. But negotiating one will not be easy, especially in the UK-mandated 11-month timeframe.
Before talks can begin, both sides need to publish their negotiating objectives. The EU’s chief Brexit figure, Michel Barnier, must also obtain a formal negotiating mandate from the bloc’s leadership. This is unlikely to happen before the end of February.
At that point, talks can start in earnest.
Reports have said discussions will begin early March.
If industry really creates a fuss about loss of market access, extending might look nicer to Mr Johnson than slogging it out.
Alan Winters, economics professor and head of the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex
Johnson is pushing for a “Canada-style” agreement, one modelled on the EU’s arrangement with Ottawa. CETA, as the deal is known, removes 98 percent of tariffs on traded goods, though sizeable restrictions remain. Despite being less ambitious than the proposed UK-EU pact, it still took seven years to be finalised.
Johnson has also ruled out alignment with European regulations.
Barrier-free trade is an aim Brussels shares with London, but only if a level playing field can be agreed – code for convergence on the likes of labour, taxes, the environment, and state aid.
Having already removed former Prime Minister Theresa May’s promise to safeguard workers’ rights in line with EU standards, Johnson faces a fight.
Alan Winters, economics professor and head of the UK Trade Policy Observatory at the University of Sussex, said the sticking point is one of enforcement.
Brussels will demand the invocation of EU law when solving commercial disputes, but the UK has been unwavering: No European Court of Justice (ECJ) involvement post-Brexit.
It is a contentious area that will “require a unique solution, and therefore time”, said Winters.
— Al Jazeera English (@AJEnglish) January 31, 2020
If no compromise can be reached, the UK will leave without an agreement. That would mean regulatory barriers, tariffs, and quotas.
In all likelihood, the UK will strive for at least a bare-bones deal that covers the trade of goods – and perhaps some services – by December.
That is unless Johnson backs down on extending the transition period. This is unlikely but not inconceivable, said Winters.
“If industry really creates a fuss about loss of market access, extending might look nicer to Mr Johnson than slogging it out,” he said.
Does UK now have full control over immigration?
The argument to bolster Britain’s borders was crucial in the Leave campaign’s victory.
In terms of migration, little will change on January 31. A member of Europe’s single market for the duration of the transition period, Britain must keep its frontiers open to EU citizens. No passport impediments, no visa requirements – complete freedom of movement.
But Brexit’s chronic uncertainty will likely see EU arrivals continue to fall, said Sophie Barrett-Brown, a London-based immigration lawyer.
“The general trend of dwindling numbers will continue for the majority of the year due to uncertainty and also lack of awareness of the relevant EU Settlement Scheme (EUSS) deadlines.
“Unless the government agrees to an extension of the transition period, there is likely to be a significant drop in the number of arrivals from January 2021 onwards,” she said.
Nigel Farage, former leader of hard-right UKIP, sparked controversy when he unveiled this poster in London to encourage people to get behind Brexit [Stefan Wermuth/Reuters]
In 2019, net migration from Europe fell to its lowest level since 2003. Fewer than 50,000 EU nationals moved to Britain last year – a fraction of the 200,000 that arrived in the run-up to the 2016 referendum.
The shortfall is cause for concern for British industry. There are deficits at every level of the UK job market, business groups have said, caused in part by the decline in EU arrivals.
Johnson’s plan for post-transition period immigration has been met with equal unease from rights groups and some businesses. A three-tier points-based system is in the works: Exceptional talent, skilled workers, and temporary staff.
The government says it will be fair, but not all are convinced.
Johnson “should waste no time” in providing thorough details, according to the British Chambers of Commerce, which has warned of costly delays for businesses anxious to plan their post-2020 employment programme.
Will UK still be subject to EU law?
During the transition period, the UK will continue to obey EU rules, for example, employment regulations, consumer standards and competition legislation.
On areas of EU law, the European Court of Justice will continue to exercise its jurisdiction – though the UK will have no say in the creation of new laws, nor will the ECJ feature a British judge.
In time, Brexit will see the repatriation of laws governed by Brussels to London. But not in the short term – and in some cases, not for years.
Beyond the transition period, Johnson is adamant that the Luxembourg-based body holds no further sway over the UK.
A poster aimed at EU citizens living in the UK encourages EU nationals to apply to the government’s post-Brexit EU settlement scheme [File: Adrian Dennis/AFP]
Michael Dougan, a professor of European law, said the prime minister’s Withdrawal Agreement allows for continued EU oversight on specific policy areas.
“After the transitional period, the Withdrawal Agreement provides for the ECJ to continue to exercise certain forms of jurisdiction in relation to the UK, for example as regards interpretation of the provisions on citizens rights [and] the Protocol dealing with Northern Ireland.”
Likewise, for up to four years after the end of the transition period, the European Commission will be able to bring infringement cases against the UK for breaches of EU law prior to December 2020.
What will happen with Northern Ireland?
On Saturday morning, the UK will share a 483-kilometre (300-mile) land border with the EU: The frontier between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. It will remain open and free-flowing for the duration of the transition period.
Soon after Brexit day, special committees of British and EU representatives will meet to thrash out a future settlement. The Northern Ireland Protocol – the arrangement designed to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland – will be fleshed out and, all going well, agreed without delay.
But the talks promise to be tough. The Protocol seeks to keep Northern Ireland in the UK’s customs territory while simultaneously applying EU rules on agricultural and manufactured goods.
This will remove the need for a customs border on the island, a politically tense proposition given Ireland’s history of sectarian violence, but means a de facto regulatory frontier emerging in the Irish Sea.
Northern Ireland could suffer financially in this scenario, said Katy Hayward, an author and reader in sociology at Queen’s University Belfast.
“We can expect to see a rise in paperwork and thus in costs for the movement of goods across the Irish Sea, and consequently a rise in prices for consumers in Northern Ireland, plus the risk of a disruption to supply chains,” she said.
“It will require new levels of political maturity among elected representatives here to ensure that this period of flux does not give rise to growing polarisation and recriminations,” she added.
After Moria fire, refugees decry conditions in new camp on Lesbos |NationalTribune.com
Refugees and migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos, having escaped the fire that engulfed Moria, have told Al Jazeera that living conditions inside a new camp are squalid and uninhabitable, just one day after their arrival. “There is no water, no toilet, no food,” 24-year-old Zaynab, an Afghan woman, told Al Jazeera by phone. “The…
Refugees and migrants on the Greek island of Lesbos, having escaped the fire that engulfed Moria, have told Al Jazeera that living conditions inside a new camp are squalid and uninhabitable, just one day after their arrival.
“There is no water, no toilet, no food,” 24-year-old Zaynab, an Afghan woman, told Al Jazeera by phone. “The smell is very bad because people go to the toilet on the floor in front of my tent.”
On Thursday, police launched an operation to rehouse thousands of asylum seekers who had been sleeping rough in supermarket car parks and roadsides, a week after a massive fire tore through their shelters in Moria, a sprawling unsanitary site originally designed with a capacity of 3,000, where 13,000 had lived.
The new Kara Tepe camp, near the island’s main town Mytilene, was made on a former military firing range and is close to the remains of the Moria site.
As of Friday, capacity at Kara Tepe had been expanded to 12,000 according to the Greek government, with 6,180 new residents. But many remain wary of the new accommodation.
A general view of the temporary camp for refugees and migrants near Mytilene town, on the northeastern island of Lesbos, Greece [Petros Giannakouris/The Associated Press]
Since her arrival, Zaynab has been staying inside her tent, too afraid to step outside amid heightened tensions.
Many refugees are angry and view the new shelter as a continuation of the notoriously neglected Moria camp.
Like in Moria, access to food and water is limited.
“They gave me one piece of meat and one bottle of water,” said Zaynab on Friday, who has not eaten since Thursday afternoon.
The flimsy privacy of a tent could not offer the young woman respite from a week of sleeping rough.
“The tents are very near to each other and at night, people were fighting until 1am.”
Zaynab suffers from migraines and insomnia but has been unable to take her medication.
“I asked an [aid] organisation to bring my medication but they said the police are not allowing them.”
Tensions have been compounded by a two-week quarantine enforced by the Greek government, with some refugees fearing their freedom of movement will be further stifled.
Like Zaynab, Mariam, a teenager, has not had access to running water since moving to Kara Tepe.
“We cannot live in here, we can just sleep,” she told Al Jazeera.
She is worried about the coming winter because her family tent has no wooden pallets to protect them from cold and rain.
Aid workers say the camp’s proximity to the sea could put refugees at further risk as icy winter winds set in.
Moussa 30, has taken to bathing in the sea, but says even that has become impossible because many people use the beach and the water as a toilet.
“If we continue this way, we will have another disease without corona[virus] … I am not going anywhere, I am inside my tent because I am afraid of corona.”
Astrid Castelein of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees told Al Jazeera: “For the moment it is an emergency site … but improved on a daily basis as much as possible.”
But conditions in the new camp fall short of minimum standards of dignified living under Greek and international law, according to Refugee Support Aegean (RSA), a local nonprofit.
“They are only given two bottles of water both for drinking and washing and many of them say they are washing themselves in the sea,” said Asterios Kanavos, a lawyer at RSA.
“They have no mattresses and their tents are very hot due to the weather because they are not protected from the sun.”
Greek authorities have blocked lawyers providing legal aid to refugee clients inside the camp, citing health concerns.
Meanwhile, the UNHCR says it is working to provide Kara Tepe residents with chemical toilets, showers and hand-washing facilities, while NGOs and the Greek government are setting up water supply systems and drainage.
“The priority is that everyone enters by today, at the latest tomorrow, also because of tensions with the local population,” said UNHCR’s Castelein.
A stone’s throw away, in the town of Moria, locals welcomed the move.
“We want them to be collected somewhere for their safety and ours,” said Moria resident Nevrakis Konstantinos.
By Sunday, Kara Tepe is expected to hold all 12,000 displaced refugees and migrants. Greek authorities this week said all asylum seekers should be able to leave the island by Easter next year.
After fire destroyed Greek camp, refugees seek European support |NationalTribune.com
Lesbos, Greece – In the middle of the burned remains that were once the Moria refugee camp lies a notebook left behind by one of the thousands of people who rushed to save their lives when fires tore through the sprawling refugee camp on Lesbos. On one page, a few basic sentences. The book had belonged…
Lesbos, Greece – In the middle of the burned remains that were once the Moria refugee camp lies a notebook left behind by one of the thousands of people who rushed to save their lives when fires tore through the sprawling refugee camp on Lesbos.
On one page, a few basic sentences. The book had belonged to an Afghan refugee trying to learn English, as they attempted to start a new life away from war.
“What is your favourite sport”, “My favourite sport is football”, “What do you do in your free time”, “I usually study book”, “What is your nationality”, “I am Afghan”.
He or she is likely one of the thousands of people who are now left searching for answers on the streets of Lesbos.
Since the fire almost a week ago, which left about 13,000 people without shelter, thousands have been sleeping on roadsides and petrol station forecourts.
A temporary camp nearby has been constructed to house some of the former Moria residents, but there is concern over plans for a permanent reception centre for refugees and migrants on Lesbos.
Locals reject the plan, aid workers have humanitarian concerns, and refugees fear the centre will resemble a prison, leaving them unable to start new lives in other EU countries.
Amid protests, with police firing tear gas at demonstrators, and journalists widely denied access to the site where thousands are currently sleeping over the past two days, the situation is tense.
According to the police, a “military operation” was ongoing and there were orders from the chief of police to keep journalists away from the area.
According to the Greek Ministry of Migration, there are now approximately 300 people in the new temporary camp, which has capacity for some 3,000 people.
An Afghan boy holds a sign saying ‘We need peace, freedom’ during a peaceful demonstration on September 12, demanding to be allowed to leave Lesbos island. [Anna Pantelia/Al Jazeera]
One young father from Afghanistan, who has been sleeping on the streets for days, described feeling bereft and worried about going to the new temporary camp without his wife, who he usually makes key decisions with.
After the fire, she was hospitalised and he was left caring for their six children, including an eight-month-old baby.
Those who have been living on the streets feel abandoned by the “Europe” they hoped for when they crossed the sea to reach Greece.
“Everyone knows what’s happening,” said Marzia, 27, bouncing her three-month-old baby on her lap. “Angela Merkel sees us and closes her eyes. I came here for my children and nobody has opened the way for me.”
A notebook with English sentences carefully written out on the side of a path in the middle of the burned out remains of Moria camp. A reminder of the lives people were trying to build in here even amongst such chaos. pic.twitter.com/iEeexpXuh0
— Katy Fallon (@katymfallon) September 13, 2020
Food distribution has been hectic and sometimes non-existent but Marzia says eating is less important to her than leaving the island.
“We don’t want food, we need freedom,” she said.
At protests this weekend, people raised cardboard placards bearing slogans such as “we want, peace, freedom”, and “Europe, help”.
They were met on Saturday with tear gas by riot police and small children were among those affected. Rallies on Sunday were mainly led by women and children who chanted “No camp, freedom.”
“We don’t want to go, we never want to go back again,” said Nazir Ahmad, 26, a refugee from Afghanistan.
He sleeps in the car park of a supermarket. As twilight falls, children play exuberant games of hopscotch and a group of men play volleyball.
Just a week ago, this car park would have been empty on a Sunday evening.
“I have two children and my wife is pregnant again,” said Ahmad. “We have been one year and two months here. How can I go back to a camp here again? We will go anywhere except here.
“We want to go to the mainland or another European country, at least to be somewhere where people understand us.
“They use tear gas against us and on my children. We had to save ourselves from Afghanistan but here we are sometimes in danger from other refugees, from far-right people and sometimes from police.”
Nazanin, who is 14 years old, writes a message carefully on her phone that she wants to share.
“All of the refugees want freedom from this situation, we don’t want hell again, we want help from Europe,” she types. “Please share it with people from Europe,” she says and asks if people in other European countries care about the situation she is in.
A couple of children sitting on the side of the road hold a cardboard sign, written in German, addressing Horst Seehofer, the German interior minister. “Mr Seehofer, say yes, thank you,” it says.
Some federal states in Germany have offered to take in refugees from Lesbos and the mayors of cities such as Cologne and Dusseldorf have written a letter to Seehofer and Chancellor Angela Merkel to this effect.
Greece has repeatedly called for greater European solidarity over the years to deal with the serious overcrowding on the Aegean island camps.
The new temporary camp is visible from the Moria-Mytilene road, dotted with white UNHCR tents.
In a press conference on Sunday, Notis Mitarakis, the Greek migration minister, said it would be “temporary,” but confirmed there would be a new “permanent” structure on the island soon.
Women sit down and pray in the road outside Lidl in the twilight. pic.twitter.com/KyVYziShp8
— Katy Fallon (@katymfallon) September 13, 2020
Before the fire, there had been discussions about “closed and controlled” camps from the Ministry of Migration in light of the first confirmed case of coronavirus infection in Moria camp, which had about 35 confirmed cases before it burned to the ground.
Now coronavirus is only one of many problems facing people who fled Moria.
On the streets, conversations are bursting with questions. “What is going to happen to us? Do you know? Have any European countries offered to take us?”
For now, as tensions simmer, there is little to do but wait.
In the twilight of Sunday evening, a small girl approaches holding her arm, which has a cut on it.
“Are you a doctor?” she asks. A mother also asks for milk formula for her baby, she has none.
At protests this weekend, people raised cardboard placards bearing slogans such as “We want peace, freedom”, and “Europe, help”.
An Afghan woman runs to escape tear gas that Greek riot police fired against the crowd after a peaceful demonstration in Kara Tepe, Lesbos [Anna Pantelia/Al Jazeera]
After devastating Beirut explosion, trauma sinks in |NationalTribune.com
Beirut, Lebanon – Walking through the rubble of her neighbourhood last week, Sabine Salameh spotted a car crushed under the yellow sandstone blocks of an old heritage building. The silver sedan was flattened, caked in dust and was clearly never going to function again. “I thought, that’s exactly how I feel right now,” Salameh says.…
Beirut, Lebanon – Walking through the rubble of her neighbourhood last week, Sabine Salameh spotted a car crushed under the yellow sandstone blocks of an old heritage building.
The silver sedan was flattened, caked in dust and was clearly never going to function again.
“I thought, that’s exactly how I feel right now,” Salameh says.
She brought a spray can close to its dented bodywork and wrote “Mood” in black, capital letters. Later, the 27-year-old freelance writer found out that the car belonged to a friend – a testament, she agrees, to how small Beirut is and how inextricably-linked so many of its inhabitants are.
A ferocious explosion tore through the Lebanese capital on August 4, killing more than 170 people, wounding upwards of 6,000 and leaving some 300,000 homeless. It also rippled across the connections that criss-cross the city, shaking even those who were at no immediate risk from the blast wave itself.
‘That’s exactly how I feel right now,’ Beirut resident Sabine Salameh said of the flattened silver sedan, caked in dust [Azhari/Al Jazeera]
Some 10 days later, as the sound of glass being cleared recedes behind the clamour of hammers and the drills of reconstruction, many are struggling to see a way forward – the trauma of the explosion at the Beirut port has piled problems onto people already weary after a biblically-bad year.
In October, the worst wildfires in decades were swiftly followed by an unprecedented uprising demanding an overhaul of the political system. Then, the country’s deepest-ever economic crisis impoverished thousands. Then the coronavirus.
“And now this,” Salameh says. “We’re constantly trying to put our lives back together and then something else happens.”
“You feel that there is no place for you to put your feet on the ground, there’s nowhere safe,” she adds.
“We didn’t feel safe on the streets and then the revolution gave them back to us – we conquered the corner, then the square. Then corona showed us that safety is only inside our house, and then this broke everything: our home isn’t even safe any more.”
‘We are waste-people in a wasteland’
Ghalia Alwani, a Syrian writer based in Beirut, had just opened her balcony door, facing the port, when the sky turned grey and an airborne tsunami rolled over her home.
Since then, the 25-year-old has only managed to spend one night at her house in the badly affected Mar Mikhael district, a cosmopolitan neighbourhood where foreigners of varied backgrounds live side-by-side with Lebanese.
The rumble of trucks driving past her glassless windows jolts her awake at night. “I’m literally scared of my bed,” she says.
The sound of running water in the shower morphs into the wailing of ambulance sirens and screaming people. Through her blurred vision, a roadside fruit stall contorts into dead bodies, including a bloodied couple she saw as she tried to escape.
All the memories are compounded by the fact that, like many Lebanese, Alwani has little confidence that the local investigation into the explosion will bring any justice for the victims.
“We are waste-people in a wasteland,” she said. “I’ve always felt through my experience with Syria that Arabs are so expendable. Maybe people here felt a bit more special because of the hip bars and life and art, but we are all waste-people who die and it doesn’t matter.”
Alwani stops, winces at the sound of a loud thud, and carries on: “It’s not normal that we can’t find joy in silly things like the latest TikTok trend because we’ve literally seen death. I don’t want to be an Arab-survivor-victim for life. But I am, it’s done.”
The Restart Center, specialised in rehabilitating victims of war, set up a tent in Beirut’s Mar Mikhael neighbourhood [Timour Azhari/Al Jazeera]
The explosion was so fierce that psychologists trained to help victims of war and torture have deployed to the streets, going door to door to provide emergency mental healthcare.
“Right now, we can talk about acute stress, people scared, fearing it may happen again, and lots of anger, we’re seeing so much anger,” Joelle Wehbe, a clinical psychologist at the Restart Center, specialised in rehabilitating victims of war, said from a tent set up in the Mar Mikhael neighbourhood.
She urges survivors to speak about what they saw, heard and felt, rather than push it down, which would only “amplify the symptoms”.
Many feel all they can do is to bury the horrors.
Mohamad Soliman, 27, was watching Netflix and drinking green tea when the explosion threw him and his dog into a wall of his house.
Shell-shocked, he walked through the street past dead people. One, he recalls, was bloodless but propped up lifeless against a wall, like “the soul was knocked out of him”.
He pushed on to his neighbour’s house. She was stuck on the fifth floor, blinded by shards of glass.
Soliman climbed stairs strewn with debris and cleaned her bloodied face. One of her eyes was split open. He says he told her it was dust, and shudders at the memory.
The 27-year-old Egyptian lost everything in the explosion – his apartment, a bar he owns and a popular restaurant he has stakes in. People he knew – the chef at a local sandwich place; a waiter at a Resto-pub; Rawan, a 19-year-old waitress – were also in the explosion.
“What’s next? I don’t know. I get up and try to do something useful so I don’t think. Give me boxes to carry or bottles to move,” he says, before shaking his head.
“I can’t make any life decisions or think about the future when my whole community is gone.”
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