If you haven’t heard, less than a month ago a referendum across the United Kingdom passed meaning that the UK would leave the European Union. This coined the term ‘Brexit.’ This all happened a few days before I left America to come to England. So, as you can imagine, it is a very interesting political time to be living in the UK.
I am taking an international relations course here at Oxford, so we have been learning all about relations between mostly the US and UK and the special relationship that we have with Great Britain. This relationship used to also have ties to the European Union, but now Britain is in the interim period before their negotiations on their way out.
For my American readers, I will try to explain to my best ability the Brexit and what Britain’s relationship with the EU has been, from what I have learned living here and from my professors. Bear with me.
Brexit, as I said before, was the vote that passed for Britain to leave the EU. It passed with a small majority of 52 percent to leave and 48 percent to stay. Everyone that I have talked to says that this may be a mistake for the UK and they never thought that they would see this happen, but it did. Now the negotiation process starts while they plan their ‘Brexit.’
If this decision were up to me, I am not sure what I would have chosen because there are good arguments for both sides. The European Union is made up of 28 member states where the leader of each state sits on a council that decides policies for all of the European Union to follow. Some of the most notable policies that affected the ‘Brexit’ decision were:
- the creation of the Single Market that opened a trade market between all of the European Union states and allowed free trade with no barriers (this consists of over 500 million people).
- the policy decision that allowed free movement of people and labor across all of the EU, with many coming to settle in Britain.
When they joined the EU in 1973, the UK gave their sovereignty to the EU; thus, they had to follow policies passed by the European Union at the headquarters in Brussels. Although the UK lost sovereignty, it was gaining a world of influence with access to the Single Market and the ability to have an impact on the policies passed by the EU.
The main reasons I gather people wanted to stay were to keep the influence they have over EU decisions and access to the Single Market, which is the largest market in the world. On the other hand, those who wanted to leave wanted to take back their sovereignty (a cornerstone of the Westminster model) as well as solve the immigration issue with many immigrating to the industrial cities of Great Britain. This creates two very divided sides. Yet, those who I have talked to always say that they voted to remain, so I am left wondering who voted to leave.
The first consequences to this decision have all been happening while I am here studying. First, we saw the decrease in the strength of the Pound (UK currency). Before the vote and my arrival to the UK, the pound was equal to 1.45 dollars. Now, the pound is 1.32 dollars. This has worked out in my favor, but from a British standpoint this may have affected their economy negatively.
Secondly, the British have chosen a new Prime Minister, Theresa May. This is their second woman prime minister and a possible next iron lady. David Cameron, the former Prime Minister, decided to resign after the ‘Brexit’ referendum because he could not support the decision. We got to watch on TV as Cameron resigned and Theresa May became the new leader of the Conservative Party.
It has definitely been an interesting time to live in the UK and travel around Europe to see what other countries feel about this vote. It has been on the minds and in the conversation everywhere in Europe. Their hope is that this referendum will not spark other countries to leave and cause a collapse of the EU. The EU has created many international and centralized institutions that have helped many countries across Europe to become stronger. It has also created a lasting peace (so far) between countries that have been enemies in the past.
I am also interested to see how this decision will affect the US and its relationship with both the UK and the EU. It may have no effect at all or it could affect the world economy greatly; only time will tell.
Paige Severson is a marketing IMC senior majoring in interdisciplinary studies. This summer, she is traveling to England and studying at Oxford University