Brexit: British Exit

Angela McKinzie ’21, Assistant News Editor

On June 23, 2016, the news sent a sound wave across the world: the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. After this day, it felt like every news outlet only had time to cover Brexit, the term coined to reference this event, and dissect what this means for Europe and, possibly, the world. However, many people didn’t even know what Brexit was, and they still don’t as the term—that died after its two weeks of glory—resurfaces in the news as new developments have arisen.   

After a general vote amongst all citizens of voting age, or a referendum, a little over 30 million people voted over the political question of whether the UK should cut ties with the European Union. The vote resulted in 52% in favor of leaving and 48% wanting to remain in the Union—a marginal vote with one side barely beating out the other. Britain tore in half as people ran to opposing sides: some to “to leave” some to “to remain.” The decision left British citizens joyful, angry, confused, but, above all, they were shocked and ashen-faced at the results. Some people who are in favor of Brexit argue that the EU is just holding the UK back with their responsibility to give money to the EU budget–money that they think the UK can use to better support their nation. Other people see Brexit as a detriment to the UK, for they believe that they benefit from participating in a single market system with the EU where there are no tariffs in trading between EU countries. But, how did this issue even arise? 

To take a few steps back, the European Union is an economic and political union involving 28 countries, and in this Union, there is free trade (goods can move between countries without any checks or extra charges) and free movement of people (to live and work in whichever country they choose). The other player in this situation [convoluted, messy game] is the United Kingdom, which is more commonly known as Britain rather than the full title of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Now, it seems as though Brexit came out of nowhere when it was announced in 2016, but there have always been tensions between the UK and the EU. 

After World War II took place and the crumbling of the European economy happened, there were negotiations amongst European nations to ‘foster economic cooperation’ for the future. Thus created the European Economic Community (EEC) with France, West Germany, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg, and the Netherlands once they signed the Treaty of Rome, which began this predecessor to the EU in 1957. At this time, the UK was not part of the community and tried once before, but France’s president vetoed the request in 1963. Then, in 1973, they were finally received; however, two years later, they held a similar vote to the one taken in 2016, but this referendum had a different outcome with 67% voting to remain and 33% voting to leave. Despite the decision to stay, this wasn’t the end of the rifts and issues between the two. The first [huge] issue after the questioning of whether to leave or stay, Margaret Thatcher, the Prime Minister of the UK in 1984, reduced the tax that Britain had to pay to the EEC because they, being the third poorest nation out of all of the European countries, were unrightfully paying more than other nations with [bigger] budgets. According to, Britain was able to reduce their contribution to the EEC from over 20% to 12%—and this still remains today. Over the next three decades, the UK and EU butt heads over issue after issue—the ban on beef in the 90s, whether British chocolate should be sold in the rest of Europe, and tardiness in signing treaties 2007 from the Prime Minister [Gordon Brown]. 

In October 2016, the turnover of Prime Ministers from David Cameron  to Theresa May happened after Cameron’s resignation over the UK voting to leave the EU in the summer of that year. With this move, May pushed forward in Article 50 of the Treaty of the European Union in full force to finalize Britain leaving the EU and set the date for the official withdrawal to be March 30 in 2019, but Parliament rejected her withdrawal and rescheduled the decision to be made in October–but this date wasn’t met either. Finally, now up to speed to current day, the UK officially left the EU on January 31, 2020 after 4 years of negotiations and compromises. Due to a [the] mutiny in the Conservative Party, May decided to resign in June of 2019 and handed the burning, practically singed torch over to Boris Johnson in the December election of 2019. With this exchange of power, Johnson was able to get the majority in Parliament for his party, the Conservative Party, which allowed him to follow through with Brexit once and for all. But before Britain can breathe a sigh of relief (or worry) over Brexit, the nation now must go into an 11-month transition period that will end on December 31, 2020. During this period, the UK will still technically be under the EU rules and will have to continue to contribute to the EU’s budget, but they will not have any voting rights in the EU and the EU’s Court of Justice will settle any and all legal disputes. This transition is necessary because it gives the UK and EU the time to outline any trade agreements, legal regulations, and the freedom of movement of UK citizens throughout the EU from this point forward. 

Even though the waters between the EU and UK are still murky, the days of waiting for Brexit to be implemented are over and now the UK can say they are free from the EU. Now, the only thing we have to wait and see is what the future of Britain will look like in this new era.