The European Union: BREXIT



On June 23rd, 2016 British voters elected to exit the European Union, sending global stock markets sharply down and provoking global reactions running the gamut from horror to congratulations.  Join Active Minds as we place this pivotal event in its historic context and explore where this high stakes path may lead, not only for the UK, but also the EU and the rest of the world.

Key Lecture Points

  • The European Union is one of the largest economic markets in the world and a key American ally and trading partner.  The evolution of the EU from a regional economic agreement of 6 countries to today’s supranational organization of 28 (27 after Britain exits) countries is unprecedented.  For this number of nation states to give up any measure of sovereignty to an overarching entity is unique and presents challenges, particularly in times like the recent eurocrisis and the refugee crisis.
  • The EU’s single market, completed in 1992, allows the free movement of goods, services, money and people within the EU, as if it was a single country, boosting trade, creating jobs and lowering prices. The European Union has its own currency, the euro, which is used by 19 of the member countries.
  • June 2016 Britain voted to exit the European Union.  In the heated debate leading up to the vote, the Leave side voiced frustrations with EU bureaucratic red tape, the billions of pounds Britain contributes to the EU each year, the desire to retain British sovereignty and concerns about the large number of citizens from other EU countries living and working in Britain.  Those on the Remain side stressed the economic benefits of EU membership and warned that an exit would damage the economy.  The final vote was 52% to 48% to leave.  By voting to leave the EU, Britain immediately became a major source of uncertainty not only for Europe but for the world.
  • The vote also raised questions about the future of the UK.  The majority of voters in England and Wales voted to leave while the majority of Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain.
  • To begin the formal exit process, Britain must invoke Article 50.  Once that trigger is pulled, the UK has two years to negotiate a new relationship with the EU.  Whether there will be a “soft Brexit” or a “hard Brexit” remains to be seen.  Negotiations are expected to be long and hard.  EU leaders are not likely to give much of an advantage to Britain for fear other EU member nations with growing populist parties will also decide to exit the union. 

Exploration Questions

  • What are the benefits and the disadvantages of participation in the European Union?  In a single European currency?
  • Why did Britain vote to exit the EU?   What implications does Brexit have for the British economy?   US economy?  Global economy?  What implications does it have for the political future of the UK?   Of Europe?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you think the EU will survive?   Why?  Why not?
  • What characteristics/traits do you associate with different European countries?     Do you think these differences have changed with the free movement provided by the EU?   If so, how?

More to Explore

Books For Further Reading

  • Habermas, Jurgen. The Crisis of the European Union. Polity Press, 2013. 120 pages.  The author analyses the EU’s response to the global financial crisis, calling it ineffectual, and outlining the threat it poses to continued European unity.  He makes recommendations for reforms to address the EU’s structural defects.
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  • Grob-Fitzgibbon, Benjamin.  Continental Drift: Britain and Europe from the End of Empire to the Rise of Euroscepticism.  Cambridge University Press, 2016. 601 pages.  This book describes Britain’s uneasy relationship with the European continent since the end of WWII and how that led to Brexit.
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