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Brexit Countdown: 1 Year To Go


Today marks exactly one year until the United Kingdom officially leaves the European Union. It is called Brexit, and as the countdown to this divorce from the EU begins, there's still a lot that needs to be figured out. Much of that work will fall on the shoulders of British Prime Minister Theresa May. NPR's Joanna Kakissis is in London for us. Hey, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hey, good morning.

KING: So what's the mood in the U.K. as Brexit approaches?

KAKISSIS: So the mood is not great. There's a new poll that's out that shows that just a third of voters think the government is actually handling Brexit well.

KING: Wow.

KAKISSIS: And there's also concern that the Brexit vote may have been improperly influenced, and that's what data scientist Christopher Wylie told a parliamentary committee earlier this week. Now, Christopher Wylie is the whistleblower in the huge data mining scandal involving the London-based firm Cambridge Analytica, which we just heard about. And there was also a partner firm in Canada, and Christopher Wylie says these firms worked together, microtargeted British voters with ads that influenced these voters to decide to leave the EU. So, like, Theresa May's trying to - Prime Minister Theresa May's trying to tune this all out. She's on a whistle stop tour of the U.K. today, travelling through England, Wales, Northern Ireland, Scotland. And this is what she said this morning in Scotland.


PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY: I believe that we can negotiate a good agreement which is tariff-free and as frictionless trade as possible so we maintain those markets in the EU but also that we open up markets around the rest of the world. Brexit provides us with opportunities.

KAKISSIS: As you can hear, she's trying to sound as optimistic as possible.

KING: Yeah, about a path that's not really clear. I mean, Brexit is an enormous logistical challenge. What's actually been done so far?

KAKISSIS: So there is this preliminary deal on rights for EU citizens in the U.K. and British citizens in the EU. And the two sides have also agreed on a transition period, which will help the U.K. a lot. It's supposed to last two years, or nearly two years - 21 months. And during this period, it will feel like the U.K. is in the EU. Even though Britain won't actually have a seat at the decision-making table in Brussels, its leaders will be able to work out, like, trade deals as well as partnerships on security defense and foreign policy.

KING: And give us a couple of the big things that are still left to work out.

KAKISSIS: So the really big issue right now is how to manage the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Ireland, of course, is in the EU, and Northern Ireland is part of Britain, and there's no border there. You can just, you know, walk across it, drive across it, with no problem. And, you know, that's the case because the EU - in the EU, you have no borders between countries. But ideally, you know, both sides want to keep that border open, and that's going to be hard to do if the U.K. sticks to its guns on issues like leaving the Customs Union and the single market. And, remember, Ireland is a sensitive issue because of the violence there in the past.

KING: Known as The Troubles.

KAKISSIS: That's correct.

KING: NPR's Joanna Kakissis, thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.
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