A Guide to Brexit for the American Teen

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“BRexit door” by mctjack is marked with CC PDM 1.0

Elisha V

While the US has been on a constant treadmill of national news during the Trump presidency, Brexit has dominated the political landscape in the UK during that same period. Brexit is not just a European issue, but after speaking with many American High School students, I realised that most are unaware or apathetic about Brexit.  But in our globalized world, Brexit and the fracturing of the European Union does have serious implications for the US, and it’s important to be aware of such politics beyond American shores.

 

Jozef Mackie, a WESS PE teacher originally from London and a US resident of nine years, also thinks that Americans can often be tunnel-minded in terms of worldly issues. 

 

“Americans focus on all the issues that need to be resolved at home, rather than learning about what the rest of the world is going through,” Jozef said. “It’s not really their fault since the past four years [of US politics] have been madness.” 

 

What?

Brexit – which stands for British Exit – is the UK leaving the European Union (EU). The British people voted in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU. 

 

When?

The UK – which encompasses England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland – legally left the EU in January 2020 after numerous extensions, but this year has been called a transition period, where most EU law still applies to the UK until a trade deal is finalised. This period expires on January 31 2021, so these next couple of months before then are crucial for finalising a UK-EU “divorce” or “withdrawal” agreement. 

 

Who?

The European Union is a collective of currently 27 European countries, formed after WWII in efforts to unite an economically and politically fractured Europe. The eurozone prevents strict borders, allowing for free trade and open-immigration. The EU aims to promote and secure human rights, democracy, stability, and diplomacy, and has developed into a powerful player in international politics.

 

Why?

Leavers, those in support of Brexit, argued that the EU limited Britain’s sovereignty, and the cost of EU membership was too much for what the UK got out of it. On many issues, EU law trumps national UK law, so UK politicians felt too much power was in the hands of the EU executive branch rather than local legislatures. This sentiment is similar to US debates about state versus federal power, an ongoing issue today. 

 

Leavers also claimed that the free-flow of EU immigrants to the UK were stealing public services and job opportunities away from native-born citizens, an anti-immigrant sentiment that we also see in the US. The reality, however, is that Brexit, and the resulting tariffs, inflation, and reduced UK workforce, has and will hurt the economy much more than what this theory claims.

 

Most in favour of Brexit are part of the Conservative party, the equivalent to Republicans, while those against it are generally part of the Labour party, the equivalent to the Democrats. Remainers, those opposed to Brexit, view the EU as an important regulator and protector of human rights, democracy, economic stability, and unity. Euroscepticism was prevalent in conservative UK politics long before Brexit, as illustrated by the UK’s refusal to adopt the euro currency like all other EU countries do.

 

How (Does it Affect the US, EU, and the world) ?

 

Dating back to colonial America, the US and Great Britain have always been interconnected and impacted by the other’s actions – Brexit is no exception.

 

The EU is a vital US ally, and many worry that Brexit will initiate a further unraveling of the EU. The UK has the closest relationship with the US out of any European country, and therefore gave US interests a “voice” in European politics. Brexit will certainly disrupt US-EU dynamics.

 

Although the US constitution doesn’t outline that states can unilaterally decide to secede from the union, Brexit has inspired several US independence movements, from Vermont to Texas, and most prominently, Calexit

 

EU

The EU’s “eurozone” allows virtually free movement across EU countries. Brits and EU citizens will not now need costly visas to travel and live in the EU and the UK, respectively. This will also drive travel prices up for Americans, too. 

 

In addition to leaving the EU economic and immigration systems, Brexit means that UK citizens can no longer enjoy day-to-day EU systems, like the EU’s free health insurance system, EU’s driving licenses, and, most relevant to students, higher education – hundreds of thousands of European university students will no longer enjoy reduced tuition, and the same goes for British students in EU universities. 

 

One of the biggest Brexit issues is about the UK’s only land border. The eurozone allows Ireland and Northern Ireland to share an open, “soft” border, but stricter border regulations between Ireland, an EU country, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and no longer an EU country, have been up in the air since.

 

International

Our globalised worlds means that Brexit has and will affect global trade markets, which consequently affects almost every country on the globe. The UK will no longer be in the European Economic Area, a tariff-free trade zone which allows for things like efficient supply chains and cheap European products. As supply chains between the UK and EU countries get more expensive, so do the price of those imported finished goods for people across the world. 

 

2016 was a surprising year for the US and the UK, and the past four  years witnessing the effects of the Brexit referendum and Trump’s election have been anything but straightforward. Brexit signifies a larger shift in international politics, one that turns away from globalisation and unity, and towards populism, anti-immigration, and individualism.