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Was it really only about Brexit? Euronews' UK correspondent Vincent McAviney reviews the year

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By Vincent McAviney  & Amy Chung
Brexit has dominated the national debate in the UK.
Brexit has dominated the national debate in the UK.

Euronews' UK correspondent, Vincent McAviney, looks at the highs and lows of the year and shares his thoughts on what 2019 could have in store.

What has been the biggest story of the year in Britain?

Brexit aside, the use of chemical nerve agents for the first time [Novichok] in decades in Salisbury on Sergei and Yulia Skripal was a huge story that had international repercussion with Russian diplomats being expelled around the world by allies.

It spun on with them finding out the method it had been done with — by the perfume bottle which was then tragically found by local people, one of whom, a mother, lost her life and a British police officer was hospitalised.

We don't know the long-term effects it has on others who were exposed. I think that had a huge impact, possibly muted with everything else going on in the past year.

The other story is Brexit – it has been an absolutely huge story. The previous years have been more theoretical but as the deadline — March 29, 2019 — gets closer there’s no avoiding it because we are now seeing the reality of it, down to the wire.

The fear of no deal has voluntarily kicked in because at the moment, it doesn’t seem clear how Theresa May will get her withdrawal agreement through parliament. If we are heading toward 'no-deal' Brexit, then that will be a huge economic shock in 2019.

If the UK crashes out on the 29th of March without a deal, then it would be a shock to the system and that would inevitably cause the pound to slide further, the stock market to dip, unemployment.

There were warnings from agencies across the UK – of shortages in food, in medicines, because of the disruption of transport and trade. We could also see civil disobedience [and] the army to be deployed in the streets next summer.

This is the year that Brexit got real.

What's your Brexit prediction?

This is really hard. There are various scenarios… we are in such murky political waters, it’s impossible to tell.

There are things that will have effects – the Mueller report dropped – and there is clearer evidence of interference by the Russian state in the 2016 US general election. I think from the sounds of it, there are connections to political forces in here from the UK and across Europe. Also, there might be a call to look at the 2016 Brexit referendum and see what kind of interference from the Russian state there was [if any].

I think that might help drive the move toward a possible second referendum.

The first quarter of next year will be the most interesting time in British political life in four or five decades. Come mid-January, Theresa May’s deal would be dead.

Will we be going into a referendum? Will there be a general election? Will the EU crash out? Will we need to pull Article 50? All of these things will come into play.

What we learned about Theresa May this year, is that she says she’s doing this as a sense of duty for her country, she will do what she needs to do to survive. This is a woman who’s prepared her whole life for the job that she’s in now. She’s always wanted to be prime minister. In fact, it’s been said that she was upset when Margaret Thatcher got in because she wanted to be the first female prime minister. This is a woman who’s publically had to say she’s not running in the next general election, even though in her heart, she wishes she could.

How has Britain changed over 2018?

There was a new sense of renewed optimism in the summer when the when the English football team did better than expected and it went further than it had in decades in the World Cup.

It broke the curse of the last minute penalty shoot-out and that did give renewed hope to the country that it’s been kind of a bleak year and that kind of perked us up.

But sadly, it’s the case wherever you go, you hear conversations about Brexit. The constant demonstrations and walking down the street people would be stopping and arguing with those for and against. Everyone has hardened their resolve of what they think and some people have turned from "remainers" to "leavers".

People are worried about some projections from the NHS, they’re very worried about the effects Brexit may have on medicine and medical equipment.

Who has been your Britain's personality of the year and why?

Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex. Aside from the fact that she married into the most famous family in the world – and she’s pregnant – she’s trying to stay near the issues close to her heart.

She moved to Britain and helped with the Grenfell families, she helped with their kitchen, to cook with them and she seems to want to focus her royal work around the Commonwealth.

[Markle] also exposed problems in British society. There’s been a press statement from Prince Harry where he attacked the media for racist undertones. The girlfriend of the former leader of UKIP, Henry Bolton, made racist remarks about Markle. Her entry to the royal family exposed slight problems with racism in the UK.

There’s great hope in the royal family that they [Duke and Duchess of Sussex] are a modern couple. She's the first mixed-race person to marry into the family. They could really build the links needed with the Commonwealth again. We are expecting a US-Canada trip by the Duke and Duchess of Sussex by the end of next year and Meghan Markle is a bridge to our US cousins.

What can we expect from Britain next year?

Brexit, Brexit, Brexit.

Remember, we still don’t have an agreement with the EU. So far, it’s a withdrawal agreement, the tone of it, but nothing about future relations.

If there’s a second referendum, perhaps we will have to revisit leave and remain. However, there must be a change in prime minister sometime next year.

Also, we have the baby from the Duke and Duchess of Sussex in 2019.

How would Britons rate this year and are they optimistic for 2019?

No, there's lots of pessimism.

Property prices are slowing down, the pound is continuing to fall. No matter what happens, there will be a significant change in the country. People will be worried that we are looking at higher interest rates, a weaker pound, and that will be a worry for people.

Our politicians are — as evidenced by the ‘stupid woman’ row — looking increasingly self-indulgent, and disconnected from people and there are real issues about trust in politicians and political life in the UK.

We may see a downturn in social media use among young people in the UK. Facebook is for old people, Snapchat traffic has dropped and there's been increased backlash towards Instagram.

The UK needs to do serious work with mental health – money was announced earlier this year for mental health practices across the country.

There's lots of backlash with airbrushing, body manipulation, selfie culture and people are getting wiser about influencers and paid sponsorship.

What were your best stories of 2018?

1. The royal wedding

2. Brexit

3. In August, a man crashed his car near Parliament and was treated as a terrorist attack. I was on scene within seconds – live on Euronews with the latest. We broke that the story was being treated by counterterrorism.

4, The abortion referendum in Ireland. It was interesting to see a country that for decades, been seen as the most socially conservative in Europe. In the past couple of years, it had the first and only referendum on same-sex marriage in the country. Also, it's the first in the world to have an openly gay prime minister of mixed race.