Despite of probably having an overly broad question and a simplistic view: Everytime I read about the British politics these days, I wonder, what is all the fuss about Brexit about?

They had a vote, and the people voted for "leave". The UK, as every other current EU member, once was not. Why don't they just leave?


  • About the backstop: Why do they not just put in place what was before the EU membership?

  • About the deal: UK was maybe one of the most global trading nations, why do they not continue/start again with this?

  • I am from Switzerland, which is not part of the EU, and we still have a government and food (and many trucks ;-) too), so I can hardly see nation-dividing problem here.

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    The title might be confusing, as "hard Brexit" is generally a synonym for a Brexit without a deal.
    – MSalters
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 22:10
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    The duplicate does not address the backstop, but there are plenty of questions on that. The trade deals (bullet 2) are not part of Brexit, they follow Brexit. And the Swiss model has been rejected by the UK. (Heck, Switzerland is in Schengen and the UK isn't, even today)
    – MSalters
    Commented Aug 29, 2019 at 22:13
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    Switzerland with its bilateral agreements is actually very close to being an EU member; much closer than most Brexiteers would wish for the future UK.
    – chirlu
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 6:29
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    What was "before EU membership" in terms of Northern Ireland consisted of a lot of violence on both sides. So, nothing a reasonable person would want to return to. Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 8:31
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    @hitchhiker Switzerland has pursued a sensible approach and is in both EFTA and Schengen. The hard Brexit contingent refuse to accept a transition to "out of the EU but in EFTA" or any kind of free movement agreement. That is the origin of all the problems.
    – pjc50
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 10:09

3 Answers 3


There's plenty already answered in similar questions, so I'll pick the specific Brexit question in the first bullet: why can't you go back to the pre-EU solution to the Irish border?

The basic cause is the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. This mostly ended the Troubles, a period where the future of Norther Ireland was the subject of violent clashes. Northern Ireland is part of the UK, but may Irish (including some in Northern Ireland) see it as part of the Republic of Ireland. Since both countries were EU members, this means that the Irish border could be mostly theoretical.

Going back to the pre-EU situation therefore would mean throwing out the GFA. This is unacceptable to many. In particular, not even the UK government is willing to exit the GFA. But this leaves the hard problem: how will the EU-UK border be materialized? Without a deal, this is a hard outer border of the EU. And the GFA states that the Northern Ireland border can't be a hard border.

The logical choice is a border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. But consider what we mean with "UK" : the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. They wouldn't really be united with a border between them.

The GFA has another explicit option. Northern Ireland may join the Republic of Ireland. This is an even more explicit end to the UK.

  • Ahh, and I always thought, the united part refers to "Scotland and England".
    – hitchhiker
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 19:55
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    @hitchhiker - for good or ill, it's called 'The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland'. The 'union' to which the Unionists feel an allegiance is covered in the 'united' bit. Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 21:28
  • @hitchhiker And Wales, and quite a few small islands scattered around the world, but NOT the Channel Islands and Isle of Man, which are Crown Dependencies. Its complicated. Commented Jan 3, 2021 at 16:50
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    It used to be the "United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland", but the Irish objected strenuously. Thus the current mess.
    – Mark
    Commented Jan 4, 2021 at 1:47

There are many things that are more complicated when leaving than when you have always been out. All the talk about "global trading" nation and so on obfuscate what would be some complex issues and economically damaging consequences. But the most crucial difference with the Swiss situation is that pre-EU, Northern Ireland was in a low-intensity quasi-civil war situation. A completely open border is seen as a sine qua non of the peace agreement that was agreed in 1998, in this even more than in other respects, it's simply impossible to return to the status quo ante.

Switzerland is not a particularly attractive model for Britain (it is a rule-taker, a Schengen member and had to agree to substantial freedom of movement rights to gain access to the EU single market, creating some unresolved tensions in its internal political process) but even if it was, it still has a border with physical infrastructure and routine checks. The head of the Swiss border police testified in front a of parliamentary committee that Switzerland only stops 1% of all lorries crossing the border. That's not much and really impressive. It would count as an open border in most places on earth but that's still a far cry from a border with no infrastructure whatsoever.

The same thing holds for Norway: Its integration with the EU is even closer and it could offer a post-Brexit model that would limit the most damaging consequences. It would be awfully close to a BINO (Brexit in name only) and arguably not particularly attractive compared to full membership but it would succeed in getting the UK out and allow everybody to save face. The EU was and remains open to something like that, save for the border issue. Even Norway hasn't been able to completely do away with border checks and infrastructure so special rules for Northern Ireland (e.g. around agricultural products) would probably be necessary. And that's not acceptable to the UK.


The border in Ireland is a hard problem, as other answers have pointed out. But there is another difference between joining and leaving when it comes to freedom of movement.

When freedom of movement made it possible for people to move around the EU, no-one was forced to move. There were new opportunities for people. If you wanted to stay where you were, you could. The reverse does not apply. It is a sudden, drastic, and non-consensual change in the lives of millions of people.

It's the difference between moving house and being evicted. That's "Why don't they just leave?"

  • I can not clearly follow. Do you mean with Brexit, people would be forced to move?
    – hitchhiker
    Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 19:58
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    @hitchhiker yes. Uk citizens in the EU and EU citizens in the UK are being told they can't stay. Commented Aug 30, 2019 at 20:09
  • @RupertMorrish Oh, by whom are they told? As far as I know, the UK said they can stay for now.
    – Sjoerd
    Commented Oct 3, 2019 at 19:36

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