Brexit; our favourite portmanteau since Brangelina and everyone’s favourite protest vote until the 2016 US Presidential election. Named Word of the Year by Collins dictionary, it was a term on the forefront of everyone’s mind, whether they knew what it meant or not.
After the vote happened, and the Brexit puns and memes faded away, the rest of the world lost interest. However, for us political science junkies out there, the interesting part is just beginning. Now, all the European politicians get to find out the answer to a really complex question – how does Britain leave the EU? Firstly however, we should recap what exactly Brexit is first.
What is Brexit?
The short answer? “A political event that everyone had an opinion on, regardless of whether they knew what it was about.” I wish I was joking, but the headline “Rolling Stone Mick Jagger says Brexit might be good for us” was actually a thing.
The long answer is just a little more complicated. After a (very) long campaign, on the 23rd of June 2016, 51.9% of UK citizens voted to withdraw from the European Union (EU) in a historic referendum. This is a big deal, as Britain has had over 40 years of political and economic history with EU countries, traced back to the UK joining the European Economic Community in 1973.
The Leave majority vote came as a surprise to many, as polls had predicted a safe win by the Remain campaign. Many attribute the win of the Leave campaign to a widespread dissatisfaction with the current political system, practically protest voting. After a survey in July 2016, it was estimated that 1.2 million people were experiencing “Bregret” after the referendum result, wishing that they had voted to remain in the EU due to a lack of knowledge about the ramifications.
The implications of the Brexit vote were more serious and widespread than many Brits believed, and were not contained solely in the economic sector as many understood. In the political realm Prime Minister David Cameron, a supporter of the Remain campaign, resigned within 24 hours of the referendum, and was replaced by Theresa May, a strong pro-Brexit conservative. During the campaign Nigel Farage, leader of the Leave campaign, had pledged that the £350 million the UK was spending due to their obligations with the EU would be redirected towards the National Health Service if the Leave campaign was successful. After the vote, Farage admitted that his pledge, which attracted a considerable number of votes, had been unfounded, as he could not guarantee that the money would be redirected to the NHS at all. Brexit even affected the English Premier League, as it was revealed that the decreased freedom for work and travel in the UK for EU citizens would affect the players available for recruitment for EPL teams. Finally, in Scotland, where all electoral districts voted to Remain, there are strong calls for another Independence Referendum, calls that have been echoed recently by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon. Whether or not that plan would be successful is another article…
So, what’s the next step?
What many don’t realise is that just because the UK voted to leave the EU, they aren’t immediately out of the EU. In 2007, EU nations signed the Treaty of Lisbon, which includes all the conditions for any exit from the European Union. Article 50 is the clause in discussion, which needs to be triggered to commence negotiations to leave the EU. This clause was triggered by Theresa May on the 29th of March.
Yet again, it isn’t as simple as triggering Article 50 and then it’s all over. As no one has ever left the EU before, and the rules of exit contained within the article are fairly brief and limited, this could become a very long and drawn out process. The exit process is outlined to take two years in the Treaty of Lisbon, however many predict it could take double the time prescribed. Once Article 50 is triggered, the treaties that govern EU membership no longer apply to Britain, but the terms of their exit need to be negotiated. Every EU member (and there’s 27 of them, excluding Britain) receive a veto over the conditions, which could mean that their exit isn’t actually completed for far more than two years.
Analysts argue that removing Britain’s existing membership for the EU is the easy part. What will be far more difficult is creating entirely new tariffs and trade barriers, creating agreements dictating how EU citizens will be able to work and travel within the UK and vice versa. There also needs to be negotiations as to whether UK citizens living abroad in other EU countries will be allowed to remain, given May’s refusal to guarantee the rights of EU nationals living within the UK. The one factor that most agree on is that the UK will receive harsh terms from the EU, with the aim to discourage other states attempting to follow the same path.
As the EU is already complicated enough as it is; for everyone’s sake let’s hope that Brexit isn’t followed by events such as Departugal and Italeave… However, it is very possible that Brexit is the beginning of the end for the EU.
Words by Ellen Storey
This article first appeared in print volume 88 edition 3 SOAP