The Brexit Breakup Gets Messier

The United Kingdom and the EU Will Be Tied to Each Other for Years to Come

EU supporters at a demonstration in London, March 2019 Kevin Coombs / REUTERS

Divorce is painful, especially when a marriage has lasted for more than 40 years and lives and finances are deeply intertwined. Emotions run high, assets are contested, and countless details need to be addressed. The June 2016 decision by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union has been no different: divorce negotiations have set off a heated debate about the United Kingdom’s future relationship with the European Union and strained arrangements with Northern Ireland and Scotland.

The British government has been an ambivalent member of the EU family from the beginning. In 1957, the United Kingdom opted out of early membership in the European Coal and Steel Community, reluctant to cede sovereignty to a supranational institution and concerned about damaging ties to the Commonwealth. In 1973, the British government joined the European Economic Community. But over the years, it negotiated a rebate that reduced its financial contributions and opted out of several

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