The Kids Aren’t Alright: Brexit, European Union explained

Colleen Kelly

Brexit is officially underway.

There are a few key distinctions to be made when delving into the Brexit issue. First, the United Kingdom is a sovereign (read: independent) union of states: Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

Great Britain is made up of England, Scotland and Wales. England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are each governed by their own Parliament (a legislative elected body of officials) and First Minister (elected leader of Parliament) but ultimately answer to the Prime Minister (leader of the UK’s government as a whole).

The three major UK political parties that had a hand in Brexit were the right-leaning Conservative Party (sometimes referred to as the “Tories” in the media), the left-leaning Labour Party and the Scottish National Party (its ideology is similarly liberal like the Labour Party, but emphasizing Scottish nationalism and close ties to other European countries).

Since World War II, Europe began organizing itself into three European communities as a way to avoid extreme Nationalism. In 1967, these three communities joined to be collectively known as the European Communities. The UK joined the Community in 1973.

It was in 1992, with the signing of the Treaty of Maastricht, that the European Union itself was formally created. Today, it is a political and economic union of 28 sovereign European states. The euro was was created and replaced the currencies of 12 members states in 2002. The UK retained the pound.

Since 1975, the UK has expressed varied interest in separating from the EU.

While membership ensures a sense of security in the EU’s single market (which offers free movement of goods, services and people), many members have voiced dissatisfaction with the EU’s rulings in financial regulations, bailouts of other countries and refugee distribution.

In a nutshell, the UK specifically wishes to break from the EU because many politicians believe that EU membership fees are too high (the UK paid $16.3 billion in 2014 alone), the UK would theoretically be free to make or reform its own laws without regard to EU restrictions or regulations and the UK would regain control of its borders and how it would subsequently respond to the Syrian Refugee Crisis.

However, critics of the proposed Brexit argued that Brexit would be the downfall of the UK’s economy rather than save it. By leaving the EU, international trade with EU countries would become much more expensive for the UK to partake in, as well cause a vast displacement of EU citizens who work in the UK but are citizens elsewhere.

As of current reports, these fears have proven valid in that the pound has reached a low not experienced since World War II and thousands of legal EU migrant workers (those in the medical profession in particular) have recently begun to return to EU countries to seek work due to fears that they will either be deported regardless after Brexit’s negotiations have concluded and the fact that a severe spike in hate crimes has arisen in the UK.

After years of debate, in January 2012, David Cameron, UK Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party, promised an in/out referendum (a vote open to all citizens legally able to vote) should the Conservatives maintain their majority in the 2015 general elections.

Keeping his promise despite his own vocal opposition towards Brexit, Cameron sanctioned the European Union Referendum Act 2015 and opened the polls on June 23, 2016.

Amongst its four nations, roughly 72 percent of the eligible population voted, the UK ultimately deciding to leave the EU with 52 percent of the votes. In response to the results, Cameron resigned from office just hours after the announcement was made.

Theresa May was appointed the new Conservative Party leader June 11, 2016. Just two days later, May was appointed the new PM by Queen Elizabeth II. The UK government differs from that of the United States in that it does not appoint a Vice President (or in this case, a Vice PM) in the event of a PM being unable to lead, so the Queen is left to pick a PM.

The Brexit results have since garnered worldwide speculation, as no other sovereign country has ever left the EU before, causing panic for EU migrants, international political ties and Europe’s economy as a whole.

As of March 29, 2017, the UK government invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union.

This provision means that once a country has decided to leave the EU, it is given a two-year time limit to complete negotiations for its future political and economic relationship with EU countries.

If the UK fails to complete its negotiations, it would be forced to follow the World Trade Organization’s regulations instead. This two year period can only be extended by unanimous agreement from all EU countries.

Since the results of Brexit, Scotland has experienced its own unique political turmoil lead by the Scottish National Party. Since 1979, Scotland’s government has expressed interest in becoming its own sovereign country.

This is not unheard of, as Ireland was split into two sovereign states in 1921, creating the Republic of Ireland (it’s own independent territory and EU member) and Northern Ireland (a territory of the UK that will soon break from the EU post-Brexit).

The UK government awarded Scottish Parliament the power to hold a referendum for independence in 2014. The rationale for staying with the UK is much the same as the UK’s rationale for staying with the EU: there are no guarantees that their economy would be stable enough to stand on its own, nor do we fully understand the future political ramifications of having to redefine relationships with fellow European countries.

However, pro-independence campaigners argued that the Conservative-controlled UK government does not adequately represent Scotland’s political ideals, such as its more relaxed stance on immigration, the widespread sentiment that the Conservative Party has alienated the working class (represented largely by the Labour Party) and does not prioritize its economic needs such as funding for healthcare, welfare and education.

Scotland’s votes were cast on Sept. 18, 2014, and BBC News announced that Scotland would remain in the UK (55 percent having voted to remain).

Nicola Sturgeon, First Minister of Scotland and leader of the Scottish National Party, has since appealed to the UK government to conduct a second independence referendum in response to Brexit.

With the majority of Scotland having voted against Brexit, Scotland’s government has expressed its interest in a second vote between the autumn of 2018 and spring of 2019 now that it is clear that independence is the only way to remain in the EU.

Should Scotland leave the UK, though, it would still have to reapply to the EU. It would have to renegotiate its terms as new members, which would not guarantee Scotland the same privileges it has previously enjoyed (rebates on EU payments, easy travel and immigration among EU countries and maintaining the pound as a form of currency rather than the currently unstable euro).

May released a statement on March 16 saying that she would not support a second referendum for Scottish independence.

“Just at this point, all our energies should be focused on our negotiations with the European Union about our future relationship,” said May in an interview with The Telegraph. “To be talking about an independence referendum will make it more difficult for us to be able to get the right deal for Scotland and the right deal for the UK.”

In response to May’s opposition, Sturgeon clarified in a follow-up interview with The Telegraph.

“I’m not proposing another referendum now, I’m proposing another referendum when the terms of Brexit are clear– before it’s too late for Scotland to choose a different path,” Sturgeon said.

Both May and Sturgeon’s statements leave the public to one of two opinions: either May is simply trying to protect the UK as a whole and ensure that Scotland benefits from Brexit as well, or May is blocking a second independence referendum so that the UK can stay a more valuable bargaining chip in negotiations with the EU.

With Article 50 currently underway, it will now take at least two years before the realities of Brexit become tangible, leaving Scotland in a state of limbo for its independence while the UK government focuses on its upcoming negotiations.

A summit with the EU is set for April 29.