What Was 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 was Brexit, and why should you care about it?

What Was Brexit?

The term Brexit is a portmanteau of “British” and “exit”. Very simply put, Brexit was 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.

There were some hiccups along the way, however. 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. The agreement was again voted down in March, 2019, leaving the government in disarray.

After failing get her withdrawal agreement through Parliament, Prime Minster Theresa May set a resignation date of 7 June, paving the way for Boris Johnson to become prime minster in July of 2019.

Even with a new prime minister, Parliament continued to push back on proposed Brexit deals. This led Boris Johnson to insist on a general election, which would see his party gain an 80-seat majority in Parliament.

Having won the majority he needed, Johnson was able to pass his withdrawal agreement. The UK left the European Union at 11:00pm on Friday, January 31, 2020.

Further reading: What Is the United Kingdom?

Why Did the UK Want to Leave the EU?

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

It’s also important to stress that not all in the UK actually wanted to leave the EU. Remember that 48.1% of voters were opposed to leaving in the first place. 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.