The United Kingdom and the Curious Case of Brexit
The United Kingdom is in the midst of a controversial political process nicknamed “Brexit”, referring to the activation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which started the process of allowing the UK to leave the European Union. This all happened due to a nationwide referendum on the 23rd of June 2016, where 51.9% of UK voters voted in favour of leaving the EU, making the UK the first country to leave the organization. Now, two years later, we’re nearing the completion of negotiations, and the long-awaited exit date is closing in.
Leaving the EU isn’t as easy as it might sound, however. It has a wide array of consequences.
You might wonder:
How did we get to this point,
and what does it all mean?
This post is an attempt to answer those questions.
What is the European Union?
The European Union is an international economic organization consisting of 28 member countries that was officially created in 1958, and that the UK has been a part of since 1973, after flirting with the idea of European brotherhood since Winston Churchill’s speech about “The United States of Europe” in 1946, one year after the conclusion of the second world war.
“There is a remedy which would in a few years make all Europe free and happy. It is to re-create the European family, or as much of it as we can, and to provide it with a structure under which it can dwell in peace, in safety and in freedom. We must build a kind of United States of Europe.” — Winston Churchill
The EU features a shared market between member countries, or a single market, eliminating all barriers to the movement of capital, goods, services, and workers; features enforcement of that which hinders market competition, a shared agricultural policy, a shared external trade policy, and more. The EU also maintains the Euro through the European Central Bank — a currency which member countries of the EU (and others — notably the Vatican City) can opt-into using, making it a member of the “eurozone”.
Though it is an economic organization, the EU has tied Europe’s countries together economically and politically to the point where war is effectively unthinkable, ending the military status quo that kept peace and balance of power between European countries, but which ultimately lead to both the first and second world wars, and centuries worth of earlier bloodshed.
Why is the United Kingdom Leaving the EU?
Ever since joining the European Union in 1973, the United Kingdom has had its fair share of Euroscepticism, even holding a referendum on whether or not they should leave the EU in 1975, only two years after joining, which ended in a 67% majority voting in favour of staying.
Scepticism of the EU has not decreased with time, but rather increased leading up to the UK referendum of 2016, fuelled by various events and trends on the world stage, namely the migrant crisis, French terror attacks, Greece’s debt crisis and consequent bailouts, and the perceived poor handling by the EU of the issues. There was also one of the main arguments of the proponents of Brexit, Vote Leave, which incorrectly stated that the UK was sending £350 million every week to the EU — money which Vote Leave meant should be spent on the NHS instead. Vote Leave were also strong opponents of EU’s free movement laws, allowing workers within the EU to easily work in the UK, believing the workers to be stealing native brits’ jobs.
The Migrant Crisis
The migrant crisis refers to the stream of immigrants and refugees travelling from countries such as Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, and Kosovo, — most importantly middle-eastern countries — into European countries such as Germany, France, and the United Kingdom. Many of the migrants travel in order to escape violent conflicts, such as the current Syrian Civil War, or to escape poverty and to benefit from the prosperity and economic growth of Europe.
Some critics argue that the migrants are of an incompatible culture with Europeans and that they simply cannot integrate into society. Many point to crime carried out by individuals of migrant background, and the current ghetto situation in Sweden, as example proof of that fact.
French Terror Attacks
Over the course of the last six years, since the attack on a Jewish school in 2012 carried out by a man linked to Al-Qaeda, France has been plagued by a string of major terror attacks carried out by terrorists which have mostly been of migrant background. The terror attacks have led to an increase of xenophobia in Europe and an amplification of the negative emotions aimed at the migrant crisis debate.
Several critics argue that the migrant crisis represents a severe security risk, with potential terrorists being unknowingly welcomed into European countries, and that the terror attacks are a direct consequence of that.
Greece’s Debt Crisis
In 2010, Greece signalled that it might not be able to fulfil its obligations to repay sovereign debt owed to the European Union and that the country could end up defaulting on its loans. To prevent this, the EU and IMF granted new loans to Greece in exchange for austerity measures, decreasing government spending and increasing tax revenue, allowing Greece to continue making payments with an optimistically expected repayment date sometime in 2059.
Some critics have been negative towards the EU’s approach to the bailout, and countries like Slovakia and Lithuania refused to chip in given both countries had received no help from the EU during their own financial woes.
What are the Consequences of Brexit?
Leaving the European Union will have wide array of consequences for the United Kingdom, ranging from economic restrictions related to which countries the UK can trade with within the EU — the EU constitutes 50% of the UK’s trade — , needing to negotiate new trade deals, uncertainty for EU and UK nationals working in opposite territories, and even to conflicts of opinion within the UK itself.
Ever since voting to invoke Article 50 and leaving the EU, failing negotiations and general uncertainty has lead parts of the UK public to turn their backs on Brexit, wanting to cancel the process. If the referendum was held again, Brexit would not be happening. There’s also the issue of Scotland’s strong wish to stay in the EU, but their inability to do anything to stop the impending exit. Would Scotland want a second referendum, parting with the UK and re-joining the EU? Such a move would strip the UK of most of its natural resources, almost all of which are located in Scotland.
All we know for certain, is that we don’t know anything for certain. A successful Brexit will lead to years of negotiation with the EU and individual countries to formulate new trade deals, and years of political manoeuvring for the UK to find its footing.