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After three years of Brexit chaos - what comes next?

PUBLISHED: 19:00 30 January 2020

Over 1,300 days have passed since the 2016 referendum

Over 1,300 days have passed since the 2016 referendum

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Tomorrow marks Britain’s departure from the EU. But over 1,300 days on from the landmark referendum, we’re still in the dark as to what Brexit actually means

What's next for Suffolk and Norfolk after January 31?What's next for Suffolk and Norfolk after January 31?

So. After three and a half years of delays, squabbling, protests, squabbling, extensions and a bit more squabbling, 'Brexit Day' is now upon us. Tomorrow at 11pm, Britain will officially depart from the European Union, bringing an end to over 40 years of membership. It's been a very messy breakup so far, but tomorrow night, the divorce papers will be stamped, and Britain and the EU will begin to go their separate ways.

The deed is (very nearly) done. But just what can we expect from the Brexit 'transitional period' and beyond? Despite the government's ubiquitous, £46m 'Get Ready for Brexit' campaign which ran last October, it's still unclear as to what the future holds for Britain outside of the EU. We've been promised blue passports, a Brexit 50p coin and a Big Ben bong. But when it comes to anything significant, anything of real importance, we've been left somewhat in the dark.

Of course, nobody has a crystal ball, and there's no blueprint for a completely unprecedented event such as Brexit. Even so, there's a sense that we are wading into the unknown and waiting to see what happens next - three years of failed negotiations can give that impression.

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In many ways, though, Brexit was never really about concrete plans or policies. Spearheaded by Nigel Farage, the leave campaign focused largely on ideas of patriotism, sovereignty and British identity. It put forward an idea of what an 'independent' Britain might look like, and was less concerned with the nitty-gritty of what an EU exit would involve. The leave slogan "Take Back Control" was memorable, emotive, and most importantly vague, and over three years on from the fateful referendum, this sense of Brexit ambiguity still remains.

Now, as the Brexit countdown clock ticks down to zero, many of us are anxious to know how it will impact us locally, as well as nationally. From agriculture to education, there are many areas and industries across Norfolk and Suffolk that will feel the effects of Brexit. Farming plays a crucial role in our regional economy, with the agricultural sector employing over 40,000 workers across the East of England. It is also one of the sectors most likely to be impacted by Brexit, as any trade barriers and tariffs could end up hurting the region's agricultural exports. If the free movement of people is brought to an end, this could also have a knock-on effect on the region's farming industry, as non-UK EU nationals make up a significant percentage of the agricultural workforce.

For the region's universities, too, the withdrawal could have considerable consequences. Since its introduction in 1987, the Erasmus scheme has given hundreds of thousands of students the opportunity to study abroad at European universities, helping them to hone their foreign language skills and allowing them to enjoy a whole host of valuable new experiences. The future of the scheme now hangs in the balance, as earlier this month, MPs voted against a clause that would have required the government to negotiate full membership of the Erasmus programme for students post-Brexit. With no guaranteed funding in place for after the twelve-month 'transitional period', students across Europe might be forced to reconsider their study plans.

For now, though, this is all just speculative. Even with 'Brexit Day' just around the corner, we know very little about what the specific plans for the withdrawal negotiations will be. Boris Johnson's Brexit vision remains something of a mystery. The Prime Minister has painted a picture of future Britain as a "global trail-blazing country", but has given little indication of how he hopes to achieve this. The clock is ticking. Negotiations are looming. And after three and a half years of chaos and confusion, the British people deserve some clarity. Tick tock, tick tock, Prime Minister.

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