Brexit still affects and threatens the future of the UK
Britain’s vote to leave the European Union in 2016 shocked the world.
“I was horrified,” said Caroline McAlister, visiting instructor of English, who led two January terms to England. “My daughter was over there when the vote actually took place. She walked out of her hotel and saw people lining up and making a run on the bank across the street.”
But it quickly became clear no one quite knew how Britain would leave, even after the referendum campaign split the U.K. along regional and political lines and divided the ruling party. Both the Leave and Remain campaigns were led by politicians from the Conservative Party, known as the Tories.
“What became clear after the votes were counted was a complete misunderstanding … in the execution and result of a Brexit decision,” said Cate Hutchinson,’13 in a social media interview. “(There) has been backlash since the moment the decision was announced in the form of protest, online petitions and outrage from MPs across the U.K.”
The vote sparked an increase in violence, with The Independent reporting a 41 percent increase in hate crimes following the vote, and caused the British pound to fall in value.
David Cameron, the prime minister who campaigned to remain in the EU, stepped down after the vote and was replaced by his fellow Conservative Theresa May, who immediately started working to honor the referendum.
May pushed for a speedy triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which allows an EU member state to leave the Union after a two year negotiation period. The U.K. Supreme Court ruled in late January that, in order to do that, she had to obtain approval from Parliament.
“(May) has always been quite a private politician and now that approach is manifest in a real reluctance to share information with the public,” said Maddy Ward, a PhD candidate at the University of Oxford, in an email interview. “I don’t feel that she is a leader who I can trust to draw moral boundaries on our Brexit negotiations. I don’t believe she has the moral clarity to make the protection of vulnerable foreign nationals a priority.”
Among many other issues, these negotiations will cover issues such as trade deals with the EU, free movement of people and the border between Northern Ireland, which is controlled by the U.K., and Ireland, an EU member state.
The Conservatives’ main parliamentary opposition, the Labour Party, is led by Jeremy Corbyn, a socialist in a party of center-left politicians. Labour constituencies overwhelmingly supported Remain, and Corbyn campaigned to stay in the EU.
However, when the bill to trigger Article 50 was brought before the House of Commons, Britain’s lower house of the legislature, Corbyn ordered all Labour members of Parliament to vote for the bill, allowing May’s government to begin negotiations by her self-imposed deadline of March 31.
“It just seems that (Corbyn is) clearly unable to command effective opposition against the Tories,” said Levi Talvi, a second year Oxford student studying archaeology and anthropology. “(For Labour,) the whole premise of the last election was sort of ‘Oh, we can sort of keep you safe from the Tories.’ But if they can’t even do that … there’s no point whatsoever in voting for them.”
The bill triggering Article 50 is currently in the House of Lords, Britain’s unelected upper legislative body. They will likely try to amend the bill.
At the moment, the Lords are considering a Labour backed attempt to protect the rights of EU nationals living in the U.K., according to The Guardian. But it is highly unlikely they will try to stop the bill.
“The Lords has defeated the government several times recently, so I suppose it is a possibility that they will get involved, but nobody wants to look ‘anti-democratic’ at the moment,” said Ward. “I can imagine that there will be plenty who choose not to make a fuss … basically, the Conservatives are unstoppable at the moment.”
While much of the focus remains on the international repercussions, this inability of the opposition to stop Brexit may have shifted the balance of power in British politics for the foreseeable future.
“After my sort of studies, I’m planning not to live in the U.K. anymore, for twofold reasons,” said Talvi. “One is I want to remain in an EU country … and the other side of the coin is I don’t see any future for left wing politics in the U.K. for a really long time.”