In the smash-hit musical ‘Hamilton‘, King George has a soliloquy wherein he threatens the colonists with death ‘to remind them of his love’. That’s how many in Europe view Brexit, or the United Kingdom’s announcement in 2016 that by March 29, 2019 their nation would leave the European Union. ‘Brexit’ stands for ‘British Exit’. Clever, no? But what exactly does that mean? And, since it will happen on the other side of the pond, why should Americans give a hoot? In this article we’ll explore the reasons behind Brexit and its predicted ramifications around the globe.
Our story begins by defining the European Union. For centuries, there were about 20-30 independent countries on that continent. In the time of the monarchies, each was governed essentially by cousins who at times became went to war with each other, usually over territory. It brought new meaning to the term, “family feud”. By the later half of the 20th century, thanks to two World Wars, monarchies had deferred to governments, with politicians pretty much doing the same thing: running their respective nations. By this time everyone from resistance fighters to parliamentarians agreed that a united front would eliminate wars and rebuild the entire European economy. Enter the European Union.
Some of the benefits to what is essentially a united countries of Europe have included the elimination of trade duties with member nations, joint control over food production, jobs creation, anti-pollution initiatives. The free flow of trade has created a Europe without borders or a single market which has bolstered the economies of all member nations. In short, the European Union is a win-win- for most European nations. So why would Britain, which incidentally was instrumental in its creation, be the first to withdraw?
The Great Migration
Over time, membership in the EU has created more problems for the Brits than it has solved. For one thing, many Brits did not want to trade-in their once-strong currency, Pounds Sterling, for the Euro. Also, after the Berlin Wall collapsed, the Soviet Union dissolved, and the Middle Eastern conflicts increased, an onslaught of immigrants migrated to England. This strained the boundaries of the ‘sceptred isle’ because there is just so much real estate within its boundaries. The influx of foreigners also challenged the British economy, however their treaties with the EU prevented them from drafting legislation to resolve these conflicts. Personally, one might think that England’s $50.7 billion Euro ‘divorce payment’ not only resolved any financial obligations but also buys England’s freedom of choice in all matters British. But no.
Also, EU legislation to open trade to all, thereby creating the Single Market that allowed greater economic freedom via the flow of goods, services, people, and money, unwittingly created a new problem: terrorism. Somehow in all these trade-oriented treaties, no one considered that their leniency enabled terrorists to move about freely since the Schengen treaty allowed EU members to travel without having their passports checked at borders. (However, after September 11, 2001, the EU worked to close that gap. Too little, too late in this author’s humble opinion.)
At this point you might be wondering, “Okay, what is so great about England that everyone migrates there?” Well, blame British Imperialism of the 19th Century. Whoa! That far back in time? Yes. As the British Empire conquered and extended its dominion over several continents, the language of choice, taught in every school, was English. Even in the 20th century, English is the second language taught in most countries, especially within the EU. Therefore refugees migrated to an economically sound state where, as there was no language barrier, they could more readily find work. As part of the EU, Britain’s immigrant problem is the EU’s problem and remediation is not Britain’s decision to make. For a country that once dominated the globe, being told what to do by one’s family is too hard for Britain to accept.
Another chief reason for Britain’s exit from the EU is their proposed treatment of Northern Ireland. This is a long-standing, bloody conflict that has raged for over a century without resolve. Much like North and South Korea, for decades, Britain-run Southern Ireland and independent Northern Ireland had been separated by a wall with guards and checkpoints. Over time, treaties with the EU removed those barriers, however, in the intervening years, acts of terrorism linked to Northern Ireland’s IRA have increased.
Another Country, Another Border Wall
As part of Brexit, the EU wants control over British/Northern Ireland relations are treated. This is tricky since Northern Ireland is part of the U.K. and independent southern Ireland will remain part of the EU. The EU is opposed to a return to a ‘hard border’ while reinstating this barrier is top-of-mind for most British parliamentarians.
At this time there is much conflict regarding acceptance of the EU’s terms and ratified treaties have reached an impasse. However there is no hope for a deadline extension for Brexit. Not unlike a divorce, all Brits can expect is that things are not going to be the same as they were before. The EU will still be in place, and will mandate some affairs of state on the isle. Behind the scenes, the government will lobby for a “hard Brexit” without any EU restrictions beyond a new free trade agreement.
What all this means stateside is this: the present reality is ‘deal or no deal’ meaning Britain will reestablish certain status quos under its current PM, Theresa May. Given the likelihood that Brexit is her swansong, the new PM will likely make sweeping changes to return Britain’s sovereignty to its its former dominion in every way possible, including a wall separating Northern Ireland. (Constructing a border wall. Now where have we heard that before?!)
Did you know? The day after Brexit was announced, the Dow plummeted by over 610 points. That was likely due to the major investment that U.S. corporations have made in Britain as the presumed gateway to free trade with the 28 EU nations. It is assumed that up to 2-million jobs could be negatively impacted by Brexit. In addition, U.S. goods will now cost more due to import tariffs. This is expected to affect U.S. farmers and manufacturers whose products ranging from fresh produce, canned goods, machined parts such as gauges and automotive components,will be bypassed in favor of cheaper offerings from countries within the EU.
It is also argued that the people of the Commonwealth were initially reactionary and influenced their leaders to vote for Brexit without realizing that EU benefits would be terminated along with their membership. Worldwide, Brexit is seen as a strike against globalization, one that also removes Britain as a player in major financial markets, and in politics. Perhaps the biggest reason for Brexit is that the once proud British people felt that their EU membership had changed their national identity, and not for the better. Since Brexit’s leading supporters were older voters who hold the majority, eventually the younger voters, much in favor of the benefits that EU membership holds for their economic future, will prevail. If and when that comes to pass Britain’s return to the EU becomes a strong possibility. Time will tell.