An Economic and Political “Divorce”

Sanjna Srinivasan ’22

Brexit–It’s all over the news and social media, but what is it exactly? Many people read about Brexit without knowing its meaning and end up taking a side without proper judgment of the entire situation. Let’s understand what’s going on here.

Brexit refers to the United Kingdom’s “divorce” from the European Union. The United Kingdom consists of four nations: England, Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. The European Union (EU) is an economic and political union consisting of 28 European countries. It allows for free trade and free movement of people to live and work in whichever country they choose within the union. The UK has been a member of the EU since 1973. Leaving the EU would make the UK the first member state to withdraw from the union.

There was a public vote, often referred to as a referendum, held on Thursday 23, June 2016, to decide whether or not the UK should leave the EU. The four nations of the UK voted and the results showed that 52% supported leaving the EU and the remaining 48% wanted to stay. The majority voted to leave in Wales and England, while Scotland and Northern Ireland saw a majority voting to remain.

Why leave? Why stay? One might wonder how it makes a difference. Looking into what factors drive people towards a particular stance will help us comprehend Brexit better.

First and foremost, exiting the EU would affect the UK’s sovereignty. Most Remainers believe that it would weaken their sovereignty by taking away the UK’s ability to influence events in an ever more interdependent and complex world. They also argue that the UK’s sovereignty would not be absolute outside the EU since the British government would still be a member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), the United Nations, and the World Trade Organization (WTO), and remain in treaties with other nations. The Leavers, meanwhile, believe that leaving the EU would allow Britain to reestablish itself as a truly independent nation with connections to the rest of the world. 

Brexit would also affect immigration. While under the EU law, Britain could not prevent a citizen of another member state from living in the UK, and Britons benefited from an equivalent right to work and live anywhere else in the bloc. This led to a high pace of incoming immigrants that caused some difficulties with housing and service provision but also had a positive net effect, as noted by a majority of the Remainers. Brexiteers want a substantial cut in immigration. Some believe that it was less about numbers and more about the principle of national sovereignty. 

Quite obviously, Brexit would have an impact on trade between the UK and other countries. Remainers say that outside the EU, the UK would lose the benefits of free trade with other member states and reduce its negotiating power with the rest of the world. On the other hand, Brexiteers say that the UK would compensate for such disadvantages by establishing its own trade agreements.

Boris Johnson, the UK’s prime minister from the Conservative Party, and his pledge to “Get Brexit Done,” market his claim that leaving the European Union is an act of empowerment. 

The British government recently asked the EU to delay Brexit until 31 January 2020 and the EU approved this request. If the UK parliament and the European Parliament vote in favor of the Brexit agreement, there will be a transition period that will last until 31 December 2020. During this time, all EU regulations will continue to apply to the UK. After this period, the new relationship between the EU and UK will begin, provided an agreement has been reached that has been approved by the European Parliament, the UK parliament, and by the EU member states. ‘Till then, we wait!