It’s not EU, it's May
When the news of the Brexit referendum broke in 2016, I was sitting in Sydney Airport waiting to catch a flight to Perth. My friend texted me, “this is big, this is bigger than Trump I swear”. I vehemently disagreed. How could a referendum to leave the European Union (despite the fact that I strongly disagreed with leaving), compare to the United States electing an inexperienced, abrasive, backward thinking imbecile as their 45th President?
Oh, how wrong I was. On the 29th March, Theresa May’s Brexit deal was defeated for the third time, and while UK citizens are reasonably concerned, so is the EU. For those of you who do not follow the ins and outs of British politics (fair enough, I understand it’s not everybody’s cup of tea), I will aim to summarize this major political fail somewhat succinctly.
Great Britain has been a member of the European Union, circa the European Economic Community, since 1973. Since then, there have been a number of major crises that have caused the UK to question its place in the EU. One such crisis was the EU’s handling of the 2008 recession, which caused a dramatic increase in unemployment in Spain and Greece. Another, of course, was the Syrian refugee crisis and reactionary concerns about Europe’s open border policy.
Former UK Prime Minister David Cameron of the Conservative Party, promised a Brexit referendum if he won the 2015 election to mollify anti-immigration voters in his own party, despite Cameron claiming to be anti-leaving himself. As we all know, ‘leave’ won by a 52% margin. The UK was exiting the EU. When the result came in, the British pound fell by 10%. Sheesh. Not exactly the economic advantage leave voters were looking for!
However, the chaos was just beginning. The real Brexit drama has started over the Brexit ‘deal’, which is essentially a proposal for how the UK will interact with EU upon leaving, constructed by current Conservative Party Prime Minister Theresa May and her MP’s. Before I get into the nuances of the deal, it’s important to discuss what the UK actually wanted from Brexit. Femi Oluwole, co-founder of the ‘Our Future Our Choice’ movement said based on their interviews with the population, Brits wanted three things from leaving the EU;
1. More control. Essentially, Brits were concerned with the lack of power they had in the deciding of EU laws. This becomes laughable when you look at the voting figures. Due to the number of seats the UK has in the European Parliament (elected members who meet in Brussels to determine EU law), the UK actually has 3 times the voting power of any other EU country. Also important to note, for the last European Parliament election only 34% of Brits turned out to vote. Looks like the ‘power’ they were chasing by leaving the EU has been there (unused) the whole time!
2. Improving the National Health Service. Many Brits were concerned with the state of their comprehensive universal healthcare system, the NHS. Most wanted to stop funneling money into the EU, so those funds could be redirected to the under-resourced NHS. However, the British Medical Association, Royal College of Nurses and Royal College of Doctors have all agreed that current Brexit negotiations will be abysmal for the NHS, due to the trade law changes which will increase the cost of medicine that is sourced from EU countries.
3. Better quality of life. The UK has strong social stratification, and the opportunities available to someone who grows up in Swansea or Hull for example, greatly differ to those available to residents in larger cities such as London and Edinburgh. The thought in leaving the EU was that with restricted immigration laws, there would be less competition for employment opportunities, and some money would be injected into the struggling working class. However, a third of the produce found in British supermarkets is imported from EU countries, and the expense of these products will dramatically increase with Brexit due to trade law changes. This will have a profound effect on the ability of the working class to meet their everyday expenses.
Perhaps some of these wants could have been met if May managed to strike a reasonable Brexit deal with the EU. Unfortunately, May’s deal has not even left British Parliament as it has been rejected three times. With the first rejection being the largest ‘no’ vote in British political history. Yikes. Why exactly is Parliament, and the rest of the UK, so anti the deal?
Because the deal is quintessentially, a proposal to follow EU laws while relinquishing the UK’s ability to vote on them. But why, you ask? Why on earth would May propose a deal which is so utterly useless and quite frankly, undemocratic?
This is largely because the UK does not have a choice. If they properly leave the EU and therefore discard EU law, borders and trade law will be in disarray. Take this example, Northern Ireland (part of the UK) borders on the Republic of Ireland (part of the EU). If the UK (and therefore Northern Ireland) wants to import beef from the United States, it will have to be checked by EU standards due to the lack of a physical border. The EU has stricter food quality laws than the UK, so the beef will be rejected for import. This is hugely expensive, inefficient and impractical. However, implementing a physical border would seriously disrupt the peace and movement between the two states (which have had a very contentious history, as we know). May’s solution? Keep EU law!
So if we take a look at what is happening now, essentially Brexit is going ahead and fulfilling the mandate of the referendum, but without any of the results. Leave and stay voters are enraged by the proposed deal’s idea to theoretically leave the EU, yet stay legally bound by it while giving up any control on what those laws may be. Let’s also not forget, that 73% of people aged 18-24 voted to stay. So all the future fallout from Brexit is going to be fielded to a population who didn’t want to leave in the first place.
Parliament’s only three options now are to call another referendum to stay in the EU (think of the taxpayer money!), leave with the current deal (not great), or leave without a deal (really not great). As I write this, May has confirmed that Brexit negotiations will be extended until the 31st October, 2019. Fitting really, Halloween is definitely an appropriate deadline to have for this frightening political saga. I hope for the sake of my dual-citizenship that Brexit will miraculously work out for the better. I’m not holding my breath though. Watch this space!