As you know, whether it be through the news, or some random article your Uncle Joe posted or maybe a meme Mark from college shared, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union on June 23, 2016. You might ask, “what’s the big deal?” Well, I am going to explain this huge mess in the simplest terms I can think of and hopefully it’ll make sense to you. I’d also recommend watching John Oliver’s two videos on Brexit. The first one covers the election itself and the second one covers the negotiation process of a British exit. Honestly, if I never watched his videos, I would be as confused as you might be.
First I’ll start with a little bit of historical context, but I’ll try to keep it brief. According to Wikipedia's article, the EU is a political and economical union of twenty eight countries which are mostly located on the European continent. The union was created after World War II to sort of mitigate extreme nationalism (*cough* Nazism *cough*) that escalated into WWII. Being a part of the union provides plenty of benefits including limited border control, no tariffs, the ability of doctors, lawyers, dentists to work in any country in the EU, as well as plenty of other economically sound reasons.
However, despite these benefits, the United Kingdom voted to leave the Union for various reasons. One huge issue is immigration policies of the EU. A large anti- immigration movement has flared up in the U.K. bringing about a swathe of nationalistic and anti-foreigner thinking within the last decade. This mindset has also escalated after the rise of Isis and terrorism in London and across Europe. A lot of conservative media blames the attacks on Syrian refugees, as well as the Muslim population. In the EU, countries can’t deny immigration of EU members to their countries. Because of this, Britain has received a high amount of immigrants from Eastern European countries like Bulgaria and Romania. While this has had a positive effect on their economy, besides some issues with housing, Brexiters believe Britain needs to regain control of their borders.
As of June 19th, 2017, Britain has began negotiations of the U.K.’s exit, which has led to some tension and fear around the world of what this could mean for the country and what it’s effect will be on the world. The U.K. has a total of two years to complete the negotiations with the European Union. How well the negotiations go will be the deciding factor of the U.K. relationship with Europe going forward, whether it be a soft exit or a hard one. At the moment, the current Prime Minister, Theresa May doesn’t seem to take the Brexit as seriously as she should, and in her comments she appears vague and unconvincing. One quote that kind of made me go, “...what?” is “I’ve been clear that Brexit means Brexit.” Great. We get that. However, she did later explain that she wants to help Britain establish itself financially within trade and all that, which is what every Brexiter wants anyways. It’s important to also note that May wasn’t in support of Brexit until she ran for election after David Cameron, the previous Prime Minister resigned. She claims that she supports it because it’s what the British people want, which seems like something any politician would say if it gave them power.
So why should the U.S. care about Brexit? One huge thing to consider is how much we rely on the U.K. for trade. Currently, they have the fifth largest economy in the world and the U.S. does do a lot of business from our older brother across the pond. Large U.S. companies have business in the U.K. that will be dramatically affected by their divorce from the union and by association, their economy can affect ours because of our connections. This had become evident even after the Brexit results had came in and the drop of the stock market in the U.K. had affected companies like JP Morgan and Rolls Royce. A British recession would definitely affect our own economy drastically.
Having the U.K. as an ally had helped form a relationship with the EU. While Trump may slowly be cutting ties with everyone on his own, our ties with the EU--especially France and Germany, may become more fragile as the U.K. fractures it’s own relationships. Unless Trump decides to fix his foreign policy agenda, our ties with the EU will be stretched even thinner, hurting business and trade relationships in the process.
Brexit has already made nationalism in the U.S. more extreme as now anti-immigration people are seeing how the UK is seeking to close their borders by leaving the union and expect to see positive things from it. Trump has very much been riding the wave of pure nationalism from this movement to further his agenda. The issue with increased nationalism is that it might make us more susceptible to war. As I said earlier, the reason why the EU had been created in the first place was to mitigate the nationalism that had caused the Second World War.
Probably the only positive thing about all of this: while Britain's economy collapses and their pound plummets, it means London will be a lot cheaper to visit. So, while the U.S. still has their economy--knock on wood--we might as well fly on over, grab some fish and chips at a local pub and say “hi” to the Queen while the pound is worth two pence to the dollar. Not saying it will, but hey, I really want to see London’s eye for only two pounds if I can.