What is Brexit? A Short Guide and Overview

What is Brexit?

If you’ve watched the news at all in the past couple years, you’ve likely heard about “Brexit”. If you’re like most, however, you might be feeling a little confused about why this story has seemingly dominated news cycles around the world. What exactly is Brexit, and why should you care about it?

What Is Brexit?

The term Brexit is a portmanteau of “British” and “exit”. Very simply put, Brexit is the name given to the United Kingdom’s plan to leave the European Union (EU).

Back on June 23, 2016, a referendum was held in the UK in which 51.9% of voters supported leaving the EU. Shortly after, the UK government invoked Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union. This began what was to be a two-year process that would end with the UK leaving the EU on March 29, 2019.

Of course, the UK has yet to leave the EU. In January, 2019, the Draft Withdrawal Agreement, which was negotiated between the UK government and the EU, was voted down in the House of Commons by a margin of 432 to 202. This was the largest parliamentary defeat in history for a sitting UK government. The agreement was again voted down in March, 2019, leaving the government in disarray.

As it stands, the deadline to leave the EU has been extended to October 31, 2019.

Further reading: What Is the United Kingdom?

Why Does the UK Want to Leave the EU?

Britain, in general, has historically been more reluctant than others within the EU to give up control of their own institutions. And within the UK, there has long been a faction of citizens and politicians that have been opposed to deeper integration with the rest of Europe. This group has only grown stronger in recent years, particularly following the 2008 financial crisis, which hit Europe especially hard.

It’s also important to stress that not all in the UK actually want to leave the EU. Remember that 48.1% of voters were opposed to leaving. However, those that did vote in favor of the referendum seemed to be united by a couple common issues.

Many Brexit supporters cited the economy as a concern, but more in the context of the larger issue of sovereignty. Some felt the UK had given up too much of its power to govern itself, and would point to the EU’s various economic regulations as one example of losing control over making their own rules. To them, there was a feeling that democratically elected members of Parliament should instead hold the authority to make such economic decisions.

There’s also no denying the role immigration played in Brexit. Despite the fact that most immigration to the UK comes from outside of the EU, many voters felt that leaving the EU would help the country better secure its borders. In fact, prior to the referendum, one poll suggested that 48% of voters saw immigration as one of the most important issues facing the UK.

How Would Brexit Work?

That is the issue that the EU and UK governments have spent the last two years trying to figure out. There really isn’t a simple answer here because, as it turns out, when a group of countries is part of a close-knit organization for over four decades, they end up having a lot of their day-to-day operations intertwined with each other.

Separating these two groups overnight would create massive issues for everyone involved. The effects would even spread to parties that are not involved, such as Canada and the United States, simply due to the world’s financial markets and trading agreements relying so heavily on the UK.

Over the last two years, several versions of a Brexit deal have been brought up and then struck down in Parliament. Even after an extension, Brexit still does not seem to be any further along than it was over a year ago.

What Is the Hold-Up?

As previously mentioned, there are a lot of intricacies involved with separating the UK from the EU. A large contingent of MPs have expressed that any UK withdrawal deal must maintain a customs union and single market.

Then there is the looming issue of the Ireland/Northern Ireland border. Once the UK leaves the EU, that border will no longer be open. Separating these two countries has proven to be dangerous in the past, so no one is exactly excited to try and do it again.

So this is where things currently stand. At this point, the whole world is just sitting in anguish and anticipation while they wait to see what the UK decides to do.