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The UK officially withdrew from the European Union last year after 47 years as a member state. A majority of the British public voted to leave the bloc in the 2016 referendum, and Brexit finally became reality in January 2020. The Government has since signed a number of trade deals with non-EU nations, including a landmark free trade agreement with Australia.
Despite leaving the bloc at the beginning of last year, the UK entered a Transition Period which lasted until the end of year.
Trade, travel and freedom remained largely the same during this period.
Prior to the 2016 referendum, then-European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker warned: “I’m sure the deserters will not be welcomed with open arms.”
The politician spoke to French newspaper Le Monde in May 2016, just over a month before the British public famously voted to leave the EU.
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He said: “If the British should say No – which I hope they don’t – then life in the EU will not go on as before.
“The United Kingdom will have to accept being regarded as a third country, which won’t be handled with kid gloves.
“If the British leave Europe, people will have to face the consequences – we will have to, just as they will.
“It’s not a threat but our relations will no longer be what they are today.”
The withdrawal was a complex, sometimes bitter process.
Theresa May’s team negotiated to leave the customs union and the single market, but failed to get ratification from Parliament three times.
Just over two weeks before the initially scheduled exit in March 2019, Parliament voted for Mrs May to ask the EU to delay withdrawal until June, and then later October.
Mrs May resigned in July 2019 having failed to get her deal approved, she was succeeded by Boris Johnson.
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Mr Johnson’s first deal was also rejected by Parliament and, following a snap general election which the Conservatives won comfortably, a deal was finally ratified in January 2020.
Following EU agreement, the deal came into effect on January 31 of the same year and the transition period began.
David Frost and Michel Barnier, Britain and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiators respectively, negotiated a deal right up to the eleventh hour.
Trade unionist Paul Embery told Express.co.uk last year: “The crucial negotiations always go down to the wire.
“It’s always about posturing and eyeballing each other, it’s a game of poker, that’s the truth of it.
“I suspect the deal will be done quite late on, at the eleventh-hour, because I think it’s in the interests of both sides for a deal to be done.”
A largely favourable deal was indeed done with the bloc, and the UK has also put pen to paper on several other new deals around the world.
More recently, however, some industry bosses have noted disruptions to UK supply chains as a result of Brexit.
Supermarkets including Tesco have warned of shortages unless post-Brexit visa rules for EU workers are eased by the Government. The chairman of Tesco, the UK’s biggest supermarket, warned of a shortfall of almost 100,000 HGV drivers.
But the Government has thus far stood firm, and will continue to honour the result of the referendum.
A Home Office spokesperson said: “The British people repeatedly voted to end free movement and take back control of our immigration system.
“Employers should invest in our domestic workforce instead of relying on labour from abroad.”
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