For those of you who may be confused about what this “Brexit” thing is, or why the heck everyone is losing their cool over it – that’s totally cool and fair and I GET IT. Not everyone is captivated by world politics, nor are they easy to understand – our world systems are infinitely complex. I’ve been studying politics in Europe for the last 6 months, so in case you’d like to join the conversation, here’s a couple of things to know.
DISCLAIMER: I am by no means an expert, and I am aware there are several generalizations in this piece – I simply want to give an overview/summary of the referendum and its possible implications in Europe and the world at large.
The European Union is made up of 28 members states (countries). This union was started in the 50’s to create strong economic ties, so that it would enforce peaceful relations between historically warring states, namely Germany and France (at this point, we’re rebuilding from World War II – Europe is in total devastation). The strategy was/is that you won’t want to start a brawl with someone whose economy is interdependent with yours. Over the years, the union has become a powerful political entity that shares common economic structures, a common currency in 19 states (the Euro), cultural and social values – they even have a “Europe Day”, a theme song – all the bells and whistles.
An important thing to note is that Europe has a policy called Schengen – that means that within the Eurozone, europeans have the right to free movement of goods and people. This creates a borderless Europe (read: no customs checks or visa requirements for citizens), and a common economic market within the 28 member states.
You still with me?
The United Kingdom held a referendum (country-wide vote) yesterday (June 23, 2016) on whether to remain a part of the European Union. This was dubbed the Brexit (Britain’s exit). The whole kerfuffle generally boils down to current nationalist sentiments in Britain – some Britons believe that the UK is putting more into the EU than they are getting out of it, some take issue with positions in the EU not being democratically elected, some feel that the institutions of the European Union (ex. the European Parliament, the Commission, the Council and all of their many branches) infringed on the sovereignty of Westminster (sovereignty: right of a country to self govern within its own borders without interference by other states, Westminster: the UK’s parliament). The thing to note here is that no matter which way the referendum turned, there would always be issues that needed resolving.
British Prime Minister David Cameron promised in 2013 that if elected, he would hold a referendum to appease the people. Cameron was in the “Remain” camp, believing that the UK would be stronger, safer, and more stable if part of a united Europe – he even promised to make a deal with the European Union that would make it more appealing for the United Kingdom to stay.
Cameron made a little bit of a mess, however, as he never believed that the results would be as they were: 51.9 % in favour of the UK leaving the EU.
What does this mean for the United Kingdom?
The UK = England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland.
Since it officially takes 2 years for a state to leave the EU, nothing will happen drastically or overnight. However, these are some possible/probable outcomes:
- There were a few areas that came out as strongholds to REMAIN in the EU. These were Scotland, Northern Ireland, and parts of England like London.
- Scotland will likely hold an independence referendum and decide whether or not to leave the UK. They have held one before in 2014, which ultimately resulted in them staying. However, now that they are no longer connected to the EU and being ‘taken out against their will‘, this union could disintegrate.
- Northern Ireland has seen a ton of conflict since the declaration of the Irish Republic in 1922, and have only *really* had peace for 14 years. There are generally two groups in NI: Irish catholics, who wish to be reunited with the rest of the Republic, and Protestants who wish to keep their ties to Britain. There is still a physical barrier wall between these two groups in cities like Belfast, and a certain religious apartheid continues to exist. Northern Ireland also receives “peace payments” from the European Union. To enact a stronger border and divide the country even further will probably push them to a referendum as well, or Northern Ireland’s borders may not be included in the “New UK”. Read more here.
- Life in the United Kingdom will change. Border control, passports, visas, working relationships, and life changes – things could get very complicated for those trying to come and go. I’ll admit, I’m not so educated on this one and the changes have yet to be announced. The beauty of the UK being an EU member state is that many people used Britain as a gateway to the rest of Europe – 27 other countries and a wide market to trade in. We can already see changes, as the British Pound has dropped to it’s lowest value in decades as investors scramble.
What does this mean for the EU?
- Many people are worried that this will pave the way for other states to leave, and that this is the “beginning of the end” of the EU. Sure, the EU isn’t a perfect system, but I don’t think we’ll see the demise of it drastically soon. Just listen to President of the European Commission Jean Claude Juncker’s speech this afternoon, and then this great comeback!
- Scotland will possibly try to join the EU, but it is likely that Spain will veto their membership (they do not like the idea of Scotland being recognized as an independent state, as their own region of Catalonia has a lot of separatist movements).
- The results have yet to be rolled out and seen – the UK is technically a member until 2018, but we hope that their leaving doesn’t destabilize this unique political/social/economic structure.
What does this mean for countries like Canada, and the rest of the world?
- Canada has a lot invested in British markets (yoooo Commonwealth, represent!). Since the pound is dropping, our investments and our markets may too. It’s also possible that we will see the rise of a strong US dollar – making it more expensive for travel across the border.
- Make no mistake, this is part of the rise of the far right nationalists. The Leave campaign used a lot of xenophobic fear mongering about ‘border security’ – this is all linked to the European Union’s response to the migration crisis (though that’s a story for another day). One of the leaders of the Leave campaign, Nigel Farage, has been compared to Donald Trump (read here and also here). There are euroskeptic, Trump-type figures across Europe as well. America, and the rest of the world, should watching and taking notes.
There is going to be a lot of change in the world very very soon, so let’s brace ourselves to go through some growing pains. Thanks for engaging by reading, responding, and keeping your awareness up!