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The Brexit Problem

On Friday, March 29th, Great Britain was supposed to leave the European Union (EU) but this now will ‘not’ happen as originally planned. In 2016, the United Kingdom had a referendum on the question of whether the UK should stay or remain in the EU and voters by 52% chose leaving to the dismay of Prime Minister, David Cameron’s and his Tory government supporters.

PM Cameron, along with much of the British public, thought wrongly, the UK would overwhelmingly vote in favor of staying in the EU. In numbers, about 30 million of 46 million, or 72% of eligible voters, went to the polls in 2016 for this EU referendum and voted in a clear majority to leave Europe.

The question is: how is Great Britain going ‘exit’ from the European Union without all sorts of economic, political, and social problems? And the simple answer to the question is: it will be a total mess if the Brits exit the EU.This is known as BREXIT, a conflation of ‘Britain Exit’, and perhaps a mystery to many Americans hearing about problems in the UK. Yet, to Brits this is all they ever mostly talk about over the last three years, and so, quite important.

The Tory government of Theresa May, now Prime Minister of the UK, is trying to pass through British Parliament a plan for exiting the European Union. However, other parliamentarians have successfully voted down the PM’s plans and have asked for an extension of the deadline to exit the EU beyond March 29thdeadline.

As such, the deadline has been altered for a couple more weeks to April 12thby the European Union. According to the Financial Times, Great Britain will have to either choose Theresa May’s deal with the EU; or exit the EU without a deal; or remain in the EU for a longer time period; or revoke Article 50, the official notification to the European Council for a member state to leave the EU, and disband plans for exiting the EU altogether.

The EU put forward the April 12thdate for Great Britain to begin preparations for holding EU parliamentarian elections and if such elections are not held, then the UK may have to leave the EU without a deal.

What kind of economic/political deal are many ‘remainers’, those who wish to remain in the EU, and Brexiteers, those wishing to leave the EU, are talking about? Many are discussing what is called the ‘Norway Model’. So, what is it? Norway is not part of the European Union but is part of the European Economic Area (EEA) and as such part of the EU’s single market. Norway is also part of the European Free Trade Association (EFTA), which includes not only Norway but also Iceland, Liechtenstein, and Switzerland. Yet, Mrs. May has demurred, and stated the Norwegian model was not really on the table.

Prime Minister May has already suffered two negative votes in the British Parliament for accepting her government’s plans to leave the EU since January 2019. On Wednesday, March 27th, 8 measures from ‘members of parliament’ (MPs) for leaving the EU, or about how to deal with a BREXIT, were voted down in the British House of Commons by some close margins.

Why, might you ask, do British politics matter to most Americans? Well, the United States, as a single country, is Great Britain’s greatest trading partner, however, as an economic unit, the European Union is greater. Also, Great Britain is our best and most favored diplomatic and international security ally. Moreover, London is one of the world’s banking capitals, a financial hub in Europe, and because the Brits exiting the EU may cause worldwide economic instability, and even cause volatility on Wall Street.

So, what happens in Great Britain has direct implications for the United States, regardless of whether or not we pay attention to BREXIT. Eventually as a country, we will have to pay attention to its outcomes.

According to recent polls, only 7% of the British public support how May’s government has handled Britain leaving the EU. Likewise, it is unclear whether another referendum would be possible, or even if such a new referendum would produce different results than the first one in 2016.

What does BREXIT signify in general?

Part of the reason so many voted for leaving the European Union was for Britain to have greater control over its own immigration policies. This in part ties into neo-nationalist British politics, and far predates BREXIT voting. One might argue historically Great Britain has always been wary of the European continent and its continental politics. Indeed, England fought many wars in opposition to continental European powers. Think, for example, the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1452), the Spanish Armada attack (1588), the Napoleonic Wars (1803-1815), World War I and World War II, and so on.

Another political issue raised by BREXIT is the ‘Good Friday Agreement’ with Ireland. If the UK leaves the EU, it would mean that Britain might have to take control of Northern Ireland once more, which would throw Northern Irish politics into complete bedlam.

But the greatest consequences for leaving the European Union are economic of course. There are a whole host of cascading results. Let me elaborate on a few examples.

It means, for example, foreign automobile manufacturers with factories in the UK would have to renegotiate trade deals with Europe. It would cause problems for the sale of commodities such as grains, vegetables, fish, meat, and pharmaceuticals. It would mean corporations hosting EU workers in the UK would have to reconfigure labor practices. It would mean EU students would have to pay higher fees to attend UK universities and UK universities would not be guaranteed EU funding for research. It would undo years of economic trade agreements with the European continent and undo confidence in London as Europe’s financial hub. In sum, it would not only hurt the British economy but the EU economy as well and perhaps even the world economy.

Who might benefit from such BREXIT chaos? Well, Russia might like to see Great Britain and the European Union fall apart at the seams.

Tomorrow, Friday, March 29th, Prime Minister Theresa May and her Tory government, will again try to push through her deal for BREXIT with the EU. May has even offered her resignation to get conservative members of Parliament (MPs) on board for her plan and final push. Will see what happens.

The general consensus among continental European parliamentarians is that they want the UK to remain in the EU and have come out recently and said as much.

Another issue raised by all of this controversy over BREXIT is how much the British government is complying with its own democratic ideals by acceding to the wishes of the majority in voting in favor of a referendum to leave the European Union. If the British government cannot deliver from a democratic vote, what does this mean for the future of the UK and its democratic institutions and the people’s trust in those institutions?

What happens within the next couple of weeks, could decide Great Britain’s role in the world for years to come, if not decades. It may, in fact, be the United Kingdom’s most important post-war decision as to how it will define its relationship with continental Europe and what this relationship portends for its future.

A BREXIT may also cause American markets to be jittery and wobbly until both the UK and Europe decide what their new relationship will signify.

More articles by:

J. P. Linstroth is a former Fulbright Scholar to Brazil. He has a PhD from the University of Oxford. He is the author of Marching Against Gender Practice (2015).

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