Outside the Houses of Parliament, London, August 2014
Luke MacGregor / Reuters

On the night of January 31, with little fanfare, without even a Big Ben bong, the United Kingdom will officially leave the European Union. After almost 50 years of EU membership and three years of bitter division over the vote to leave, the moment of formal departure is a historic milestone. But to say that the British are finally “getting Brexit done,” as Prime Minister Boris Johnson has claimed ad nauseam, is hopelessly optimistic. Friday marks the beginning of a new and uncertain phase of Brexit, not its end. 

The British government still needs to negotiate the terms of its future relations with the EU, a task so complex that many doubt it can be completed by the end of the year, when another ominous deadline looms. In the meantime, the country will be stuck in EU purgatory, bound by the bloc’s laws and regulations but powerless to shape them. Trade

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  • PIPPA NORRIS is Paul F. Maguire Lecturer in Comparative Politics at Harvard University and a co-author, with Ronald Inglehart, of Cultural Backlash: Trump, Brexit, and Authoritarian Populism.
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