Looking at Leaving: A Complicated Divorce

britain
(Wikimedia)

[box]A collaborative piece by Caroline Haywood, Janice Negvesky, and Chriss Liu[/box]

June 23, 2016 will perhaps be remembered as one of the most significant days in British history. With a 51.9% “leave” to 48.1% “remain” vote, Great Britain voted to withdraw from the European Union (E.U.). What seemed like a triumph for national sovereignty quickly became a cause for panic as the country watched its economy plummet to a Purchasing Manager’s Index of 47.7. A reading below 50 indicates a decrease in the general productivity of the economy, a real concern for Britain. The last time such low numbers appeared in Great Britain was during the global financial crisis of 2008. The value of the pound also dropped as much as 10% in value. In the days following the referendum, the pound dropped to £1.32 against the American dollar, a low last seen in 1989. Perhaps the biggest potential repercussion of Brexit is the threat that Scotland might secede from the UK in order to remain in the E.U.

During Blair Academy’s trip to England, many English residents seemed surprised that the vote to leave outweighed the vote to stay. Students awoke to find discontent among some in the Kensington section of London, as well in Bath, where they ventured to later on the day of the referendum results. It seemed that generally people were disappointed in the outcome of the vote.  Blair students also met individuals, however, who hoped that “leave” would win. While waiting for and riding the tube, Tim Johns ’18 conversed with a French man whose family had moved to London recently. “The majority of the younger generation don’t know what it means to work for a reward,” the gentleman explained, “We simply cannot put this much money into the European Union and get nothing out of it.”.

So who voted for which side? Statistics show that older Britons voted to leave the E.U., while the younger Britons (mostly university students and those with a degree) voted to stay in the European Union.

Two of the main reasons why the older generation voted to leave: immigration and the  persuasiveness of the “Leave” campaigners.  With an increasing number of immigrants entering Britain each year, those who voted “leave” claimed that immigration to the U.K. could be better managed outside of the E.U. Many believed that younger generations had not had enough exposure to how the E.U. dealt with immigration in the past. With 1.3 million asylum seekers entering the continent in 2015 (www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-34131911), many British citizens, especially older ones, wanted more control over their borders and the number of people entering the country.

Britain’s now ex-prime minister, David Cameron, of the Conservative Party, had difficulty convincing his supporters to remain in the E.U. Those who did campaign to leave the E.U., such as the leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), successfully did so (independent.co.uk). Nigel Farage, the leader of UKIP, resigned post-Brexit, stating, “I’ve done my bit [to get Britain out of the E.U.]” (CNN).

(Wikimedia)
(Wikimedia)

The unsuccessful campaign to stay was white noise to those who wanted to leave. The older generations had seen billions of pounds poured into the E.U., believing they had gotten little in return; they strongly believed that Britain could achieve greater success independently.  

Many university students in Britain, as well as high school students, were shocked and frustrated by the vote to leave. According to one student who we spoke to, a rising junior at Cheltenham Ladies’ College in Gloucestershire, England:

It is disappointing that many of the older voters chose to leave. I believe that all should vote based upon their own independent beliefs, however, the older generation will not have to experience the long-term effects of their decision, many of them unpredictable and unknown to us. We, the younger generation, will have to live with a decision that the majority of us do not support.

850 girls, between ages 11 and 18,  attend the school, which decided to hold a mock Brexit vote. The outcome was 411 (77%) remain to 123 (23%) leave. “It really tells you something,” she stated.

Although the world observed some immediate economic and political consequences as a result of the referendum, it remains unclear what the holistic impact will be before Great Britain fully triggers the divorce. Under great pressure, the new British Prime Minister Theresa May was urged by other E.U. countries to invoke Article 50, which will officially set the beginning of the two-year deadline for leaving the E.U. German Chancellor Angela Merkel even insisted on “no notification, no negotiation” (reuters.com), pushing the British government to make the final decision, which has yet to be made, as soon as possible.

One of the reasons for delaying the triggering of Article 50 is that some British officials want to start negotiations only after the French and German elections, which both take place in 2017. That would give the British government a better sense of who it will be dealing with in future negotiations. For now, many British officials are striving to gain more time to establish its “special status” within the E.U. Michael Roth, a junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition government, mentioned that some in the German government want “relations between the European Union and Britain to be as close as possible” (telegraph.co.uk).

Article 50, however, only marks the beginning of the main event. According to Jean-Claude Piris, the E.U.’s former chief lawyer, it will take at least another eight years to come to a satisfactory U.K.-E.U. trade deal. Thus, many changes will happen throughout the long process of Brexit. The referendum is not the definitive word on this messy, ugly divorce.

(Copyright Janice Negvesky, Chriss Liu, and Caroline Haywood)