Brexit is arguably the U.K’s biggest political event of our generation – its ripples continue to shake, and the nation is more divided over it than it has been over anything in decades.
So: is Brexit really such a big deal? This article will attempt to unpack that question.
What is Brexit?
Brexit is the motion for Britain to leave the European Union (E.U).
When the British electorate voted in the 2016 referendum, the result shocked the world of politics – not so dissimilarly to Donald Trump’s election as U.S. President.
From over 33 million voters (a 72% turnout), those who voted to ‘Leave’ made up 52% of the vote; whereas those who voted to ‘Remain’ amassed 48% of the vote.
Due to such fine margins, the referendum has not ended the debate – not by a long shot. Here in Britain it is virtually impossible to go anywhere without overhearing a conversation, or glimpsing some headline about Brexit.
And, 3 years on from the referendum, Brexit has still not been implemented.
There are a number of reasons for this – such as the refusal of so-called ‘Remainers’ to accept the result. (https://www.bollockstobrexit.com/ )
Furthermore, U.K Parliament – equally as divided as the population – hasn’t managed to agree on how to implement Brexit.
Parliamentary conflicts triggered Theresa May – a Remainer prior to the referendum – to resign as Prime Minister. (https://www.ft.com/content/082d16f8-7dfd-11e9-81d2-f785092ab560)
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What’s Happening Now?
Disputes as to whether or not the majority of the population is still in favour of Brexit are ongoing.
There is a claim that, leading up to the referendum, the Pro-Leave campaign lied to the electorate – Boris Johnson, Conservative MP, has been summoned to court to answer for those claims. (https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2019/may/29/boris-johnson-appear-court-eu-referendum-misconduct-claims )
However, there are examples of lies from both campaigns – and in this era of ‘post-truth’, where the authority of ‘facts’ is open to interpretation, it seems unlikely that Johnson will be prosecuted.
In another display of post-truth, the U.K’s results in last week’s European Parliament Elections imply different things depending on who you listen to.
Remainers argue that clearly Pro-Remain parties collectively outperformed the Pro-Leave parties clearly in favour of a so-called ‘hard Brexit’ (leaving the E.U with or without an E.U trade deal). Remainers, therefore, believe there is a mandate for a second referendum, where the electorate will have an opportunity to change its mind. (https://www.politics.co.uk/blogs/2019/05/27/european-elections-remain-triumphant )
But Nigel Farage, the leader of the Brexit Party, dismissed these claims as ‘absolute tosh’. He, along with the other ‘Leavers’, point out that 75% of activists in the Conservative Party (currently in government) are Pro-Leave, and taking their numbers into account proves that the appetite for Brexit still exists.
Judging the true message of these results is challenging; but the country is certainly still divided.
What will happen next?
Following Theresa May’s failure to deliver Brexit, pro-Leave candidates are dominating the race to replace her as Prime Minister (the current favourite is Boris Johnson). https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/0/next-prime-minister-uk-odds-candidates-boris-johnson/
It seems likely, then, that Brexit will finally go ahead on the 31st October – with or without a deal.
Will the U.K be better off?
It’s hard to say for sure whether or not the U.K will be better off.
‘Euroscepticism’ (anti-E.U feeling) is not only present in the U.K – it is spread all across Europe.
Euroscepticism also transcends the traditional politics of ‘left and right’ – the pro-Leave Brexit Party, as well as the pro-Remain Change UK, are made up of former supporters and members from both the Conservative and Labour parties.
Here are some basic arguments to LEAVE:
- The E.U is undemocratic and adds a needless layer of bureaucracy.
- Freedom of movement encourages immigration, adding strains to services like the NHS.
- It has treated member states badly when in economic crisis (particularly Greece).
- Industries, including the fishing industry, have suffered.
- Calls for a ‘United States of Europe’ and a European army possess a dystopian flavour.
And here are some basic arguments to REMAIN:
- The E.U has succeeded in keeping peace between European countries.
- Global issues can’t be tackled without cooperative organisations such as the E.U.
- The E.U provides checks and balances, preventing governments from getting too powerful.
- Some supporters actually prefer E.U politics to their own national politics.
- Freedom of movement is a two-ended stick, providing opportunity and improving economy.
There are counterarguments to the arguments from both sides of the debate, and it seems unlikely that either side will convince their opposition any time soon.
Nobody truly knows if the U.K will be better off or not.
So what’s the big deal?
From a democratic standpoint the referendum has been won, so Brexit simply must go ahead.
But the debate won’t go away.
Brexit is a topic which people have identified with far more than they ever identified with the traditional ‘left vs. right’ politics – and when Brexit is finally delivered, it is likely that the debate will still be relevant.
And that’s the big deal. Brexit engages people.
It may seem obvious that the U.K has more pressing concerns than E.U membership – like poverty, the environment, and its own government’s flaws (which will still exist after Brexit).
Still – for better or worse – that will all have to wait.