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Britain's long, complicated divorce from Europe

Updated : March 18, 2019 12:02 PM IST

Britain's love-hate relationship with the rest of Europe goes back decades, but the Brexit crisis gripping it today stems from a dramatic January 2013 speech by Prime Minister David Cameron in which he promised an "in or out" referendum. The vote would be to determine whether Britons wanted to stay in the European Union, or sever ties. The actual referendum was held in June 2016, and Cameron — a youthful prime minister enjoying his second term in office — became its first casualty after he failed to convince voters that the benefits of EU membership outweighed the liabilities. The vote was 52 percent to 48 in favor of leaving. A chagrined Cameron, with his wife by his side, walked out of 10 Downing Street the morning after and resigned. Big winners, it seemed, were Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage, luminaries of the "Leave" campaign whose "take back control" arguments carried the day, bolstered by unsubstantiated claims that leaving the EU would allow Britain to add 350 million pounds ($455 million) a week to the National Health Service budget. But it was Theresa May, Cameron's home secretary, who emerged as the Conservative Party choice as his successor and was charged with the task of leading Britain out of the EU — a task that has turned out to be more difficult than most anticipated.

 In this Friday, June 24, 2016 file photo, a statue of Winston Churchill is silhouetted against the Houses of Parliament and the early morning sky in London. (AP)
 In this Friday, June 24, 2016 file photo, a statue of Winston Churchill is silhouetted against the Houses of Parliament and the early morning sky in London. (AP)
In this Friday, June 24, 2016 file photo, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party speaks to the media on College Green with the Houses of Parliament in the background in London after Britain voted to leave the EU. (AP)
In this Friday, June 24, 2016 file photo, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party speaks to the media on College Green with the Houses of Parliament in the background in London after Britain voted to leave the EU. (AP)
In this Friday, June 24, 2016 file photo, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, celebrates and poses for photographers as he leaves a
In this Friday, June 24, 2016 file photo, Nigel Farage, the leader of the UK Independence Party, celebrates and poses for photographers as he leaves a "Leave.EU" organisation party for the British European Union membership referendum in London. (AP)
In this Wednesday, July 13, 2016 file photo, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, speaks to the media as his wife Samantha and their children Nancy, Florence and Elwen, from left, look on as they leave 10 Downing Street, in London after he resigned. (AP)
In this Wednesday, July 13, 2016 file photo, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, speaks to the media as his wife Samantha and their children Nancy, Florence and Elwen, from left, look on as they leave 10 Downing Street, in London after he resigned. (AP)
In this Wednesday, July 13, 2016 file photo, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, his wife Samantha and their children Nancy, Elwen and Florence, hug on the steps of 10 Downing Street in London. Cameron stepped down after six years as prime minister. (AP)
In this Wednesday, July 13, 2016 file photo, Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron, his wife Samantha and their children Nancy, Elwen and Florence, hug on the steps of 10 Downing Street in London. Cameron stepped down after six years as prime minister. (AP)
In this Wednesday, July 13, 2016 file photo, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip May stand on the steps of 10 Downing Street in London. David Cameron had stepped down Wednesday after six years as prime minister. (AP)
In this Wednesday, July 13, 2016 file photo, British Prime Minister Theresa May and her husband Philip May stand on the steps of 10 Downing Street in London. David Cameron had stepped down Wednesday after six years as prime minister. (AP)
In this Tuesday March 28, 2017 file photo, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, sitting below a painting of Britain's first Prime Minister Robert Walpole, signs the official letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, in 10 Downing Street, London, invoking Article 50 of the bloc's key treaty, the formal start of exit negotiations. Britons voted in June to leave the bloc after four decades of membership. (AP)
In this Tuesday March 28, 2017 file photo, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, sitting below a painting of Britain's first Prime Minister Robert Walpole, signs the official letter to European Council President Donald Tusk, in 10 Downing Street, London, invoking Article 50 of the bloc's key treaty, the formal start of exit negotiations. Britons voted in June to leave the bloc after four decades of membership. (AP)
In this Wednesday, March 29, 2017 file photo, EU Council President Donald Tusk holds British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit letter in notice of the UK's intention to leave the bloc under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty at a press conference in Brussels. (AP)
In this Wednesday, March 29, 2017 file photo, EU Council President Donald Tusk holds British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit letter in notice of the UK's intention to leave the bloc under Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty at a press conference in Brussels. (AP)
In this Friday, Oct. 20, 2017 file photo, British Prime Minister Theresa May waits for the arrival of European Council President Donald Tusk prior to a bilateral meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk during an EU summit in Brussels. (AP)
In this Friday, Oct. 20, 2017 file photo, British Prime Minister Theresa May waits for the arrival of European Council President Donald Tusk prior to a bilateral meeting with European Council President Donald Tusk during an EU summit in Brussels. (AP)
In this Monday, March 19, 2018 file photo, European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, gestures as he meets with British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis at EU headquarters in Brussels. (AP)
In this Monday, March 19, 2018 file photo, European Union chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, right, gestures as he meets with British Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union David Davis at EU headquarters in Brussels. (AP)
In this Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 file photo Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Dominic Raab, left, and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier prepare to shake hands after a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels. (AP)
In this Friday, Aug. 31, 2018 file photo Britain's Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union Dominic Raab, left, and EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier prepare to shake hands after a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels. (AP)
 In this file photo taken on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, a sign in a parking lot of a cemetery reads:
 In this file photo taken on Wednesday, Oct. 10, 2018, a sign in a parking lot of a cemetery reads: "No EU border in Ireland" near Carrickcarnan, Ireland, just next to the Jonesborough Parish church in Northern Ireland. (AP)
In this Monday, Dec. 3, 2018 file photo, protestors are reflected in a puddle as they wave European flags to demonstrate against Brexit in front of the Parliament in London. Britain's love-hate relationship with the rest of Europe goes back decades, but the Brexit crisis gripping it today stems from dramatic January 2013 speech by Prime Minister David Cameron in which he promised an
In this Monday, Dec. 3, 2018 file photo, protestors are reflected in a puddle as they wave European flags to demonstrate against Brexit in front of the Parliament in London. Britain's love-hate relationship with the rest of Europe goes back decades, but the Brexit crisis gripping it today stems from dramatic January 2013 speech by Prime Minister David Cameron in which he promised an "in or out" referendum. Britain voted to leave, but negotiations between Britain and the EU have been slow and at times acrimonious, and the 585-page withdrawal agreement produced after two years of talks has been rejected twice by Britain's divided Parliament. (AP)
In this Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018 file photo EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, left, delivers the draft withdrawal agreement to European Council President Donald Tusk during a media conference at the Europa building in Brussels. (AP)
In this Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018 file photo EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, left, delivers the draft withdrawal agreement to European Council President Donald Tusk during a media conference at the Europa building in Brussels. (AP)
In this Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 file photo Britain's Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow, right, gestures to British Prime Minister Theresa May after she spoke with the media at an EU summit in Brussels. (AP)
In this Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 file photo Britain's Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow, right, gestures to British Prime Minister Theresa May after she spoke with the media at an EU summit in Brussels. (AP)
In this Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 file photo, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker prepares to shake hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May before their meeting at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. (AP)
In this Thursday, Feb. 7, 2019 file photo, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker prepares to shake hands with British Prime Minister Theresa May before their meeting at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. (AP)
In this Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 file photo, Remain in the European Union supporters wear blindfolds as they take part in a protest event organised by the People's Vote Campaign, which calls for a second referendum on Britain's EU membership, in Parliament Square, London. (AP)
In this Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 file photo, Remain in the European Union supporters wear blindfolds as they take part in a protest event organised by the People's Vote Campaign, which calls for a second referendum on Britain's EU membership, in Parliament Square, London. (AP)
 In this Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 file photo the flag of the European Union and the British national flag are flown on poles during a demonstration by remain in the EU outside spporters the Palace of Westminster in London. (AP)
 In this Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 file photo the flag of the European Union and the British national flag are flown on poles during a demonstration by remain in the EU outside spporters the Palace of Westminster in London. (AP)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 file photo, a leave the European Union (EU) supporter, at right, holds a placard up in front of remain in the EU supporters protesting outside Downing Street in London. (AP)
In this Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019 file photo, a leave the European Union (EU) supporter, at right, holds a placard up in front of remain in the EU supporters protesting outside Downing Street in London. (AP)
In this Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019 file photo British Prime Minister Theresa May, center, listens as Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, second left, speaks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, second right, during a meeting of leaders at an EU-Arab summit at the Sharm El Sheikh convention center in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. (AP)
In this Sunday, Feb. 24, 2019 file photo British Prime Minister Theresa May, center, listens as Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, second left, speaks with Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, second right, during a meeting of leaders at an EU-Arab summit at the Sharm El Sheikh convention center in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt. (AP)
In this Monday, March 4, 2019 file photo a carnival float depicts British Prime Minister Theresa May and the Brexit during the traditional carnival parade in Duesseldorf, Germany. (AP)
In this Monday, March 4, 2019 file photo a carnival float depicts British Prime Minister Theresa May and the Brexit during the traditional carnival parade in Duesseldorf, Germany. (AP)
In this Tuesday, March 12, 2019 file photo a Pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporter takes part in a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London. (AP)
In this Tuesday, March 12, 2019 file photo a Pro-Brexit leave the European Union supporter takes part in a protest outside the Houses of Parliament in London. (AP)
In this Tuesday March 12, 2019 file photo Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to lawmakers in parliament, London.  (AP)
In this Tuesday March 12, 2019 file photo Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to lawmakers in parliament, London.  (AP)
In this Thursday March 14, 2019 file handout photo provided by UK Parliament, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, first row centre, laughs during the Brexit debate in the House of Commons, London. (AP)
In this Thursday March 14, 2019 file handout photo provided by UK Parliament, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May, first row centre, laughs during the Brexit debate in the House of Commons, London. (AP)
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