The British are going! The British are going!
Or, at least that is what was supposed to happen when 52% of voters in the United Kingdom decided to leave the European Union.
The process of the British exit from the EU, popularly known as “Brexit,” commenced on June 23, 2016 after the people voted in favor of leaving by a margin of 3.8%. However, because of continued delays in the negotiation process, the British have yet to actually exit.
The reasons cited for why the people of the U.K. want to leave the EU vary, but three are particularly popular and may feel close to home for Americans: money, immigration and national identity.
Those in the “leave” faction have rallied around some specific issues resulting from membership in the EU. First, some are opposed to the practice of the U.K. giving money to the EU to be doled out to the other member states. Next, some criticize the free immigration between the U.K. and EU states and assert that British identity is being sacrificed to a broader European identity.
Whatever one’s reasons for voting to leave may have been, it would be interesting to know whether these reasons would have yielded a “leave” vote if voters were given foresight into how the Brexit process would play out.
Several months after becoming prime minister, Theresa May triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which set the date of departure for March 29, 2019. This article is the legal mechanism agreed upon in 2009 for a state’s withdrawal from the Union. This was the first formal declaration of the U.K.’s intent to leave, as the referendum in 2016 was legally nonbinding.
However, trouble arose when May’s general election resulted in her party losing the majority in Parliament. This only served to make negotiations more difficult.
May’s “Chequers plan” called for a relatively close relationship with the EU. It was considered a “soft Brexit” plan as it included a free trade area with a common rulebook for certain goods as well as a lack of a hard border in Northern Ireland.
The border in Northern Ireland has been one of the main issues of contention throughout the negotiation process. If the U.K. leaves the EU’s customs union and single market, Northern Ireland may become a customs border. Opponents of establishing a hard border worry that violence reminiscent of the sectarian conflicts of an earlier era in Ireland will reemerge.
A revised deal was struck with the EU for the U.K.’s withdrawal on Nov. 25, 2018. However, Parliament voted decisively against it Jan. 15. It again rejected the deal on March 12. And again on March 30.
The deadline for Brexit was then extended until Oct. 31.
Boris Johnson, upon replacing May as prime minister, referred to the Oct. 31 deadline as “do or die” and vowed to leave the EU with or without a deal. Johnson even tried to suspend Parliament in the weeks leading up to this deadline – a controversial move that was later declared unlawful.
Johnson proposed his own plan, which strayed from May’s plan and called for a regulatory border between Northern Ireland and the U.K. and a customs border between Northern and Southern Ireland. However, in special session Oct. 19, Johnson’s deal was lost in Parliament and he had to request a three-month extension for Brexit.
For now, there is a general election set for Dec. 12 followed by a new Brexit deadline of Jan. 31. This makes Brexit negotiations more than three years in the making as they continue to elude an attentive public as to what the future will hold.
However, though Brexit is likely to disrupt the U.K.’s economy and international relations, many wonder what impact it will have on the United States and the rest of the world. Though the effects of Brexit may seem relevant only to a distant world across the Atlantic, the interconnectedness of today’s world ensures that everyone – even UCLA students – will feel its impacts to some degree.
The U.K. is one of the largest global economies. It is also one of the U.S.’ biggest trading partners. Thus, whatever happens to the U.K.’s economy will reverberate onto the U.S. economy.
This “special relationship” between the U.K. and the U.S. is illustrated by the fact that, after the pound dropped to 30-year lows post-Brexit referendum, the stock market dropped over 600 points the next day.
If the U.K. chooses to leave the EU without a deal, CNN Business predicts that the U.K.’s economy would not grow in 2020 and 2021, debt would rise to nearly 90% of the economic output, and the government would have to eventually resort to austerity measures.
Global economic growth and manufacturing is already suffering because of the trade dispute between the U.S. and China. In the case of a no-deal Brexit, the European Central Bank has predicted that the European region as a whole would feel 10% to 30% of the negative impacts that the U.K. experiences.
This matters because a suffering European economy means a suffering world economy.
Further, the U.K.’s departure from the EU could have notable impacts on students studying abroad. The potential need for visas to travel between the EU and the U.K. and tuition hikes for EU residents could dampen the diversity of the U.K. education system. For Americans studying abroad, this might prevent them from experiencing the diversity of culture that has been present in the pre-Brexit world.
Though these situations are hypothetical, they seem all the more significant when considered within the context that 746 students participated in the University of California Education Abroad Program in England during the 2017-2018 year.
The precise effects of Brexit are difficult to pinpoint considering that nobody knows what Brexit will actually look like. However, it is safe to assume that given the role of the U.K. on the world stage, everyone has an interest in following how Brexit will unfold.