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Brexit explained: economics, elections and impediments

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Outside of the United Kingdom (U.K.), Brexit, a conjunction for the ‘British Exit’ from the European Union (EU), is a situation most people do not care about, or if they do, do not understand. Here’s the thing: the economic ramifications of Brexit will not only impact the U.K., but the entirety of Europe, the United States and the rest of the world.  Most recently, the Parliament of the U.K. rejected Boris Johnson’s bid to call a snap general election for a third time, despite the Prime Minister arguing it would help “get Brexit done.” The EU also extended the Brexit deadline until Jan. 31, though extension is flexible, meaning the U.K. can leave earlier if the deal is ratified.

In 2016, a referendum on Brexit was held. Calls for a referendum on the U.K.’s relationship with the EU had circulated for years from Parliament. For example, in 2012, over almost 100 Conservative members of Parliament (MPs) unsuccessfully called for a referendum. One of Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s campaign promises was that if he won the 2015 General Election, there would be a referendum held on Brexit before the end of 2017. 

The motivation behind the U.K. leaving the EU is typically either economic or political. Countries that are members of the EU are governed by free movement laws, which guarantees the free movement of all people to travel, live and take jobs in other EU countries. U.K. politicians have used the emotional rhetoric of claiming that British citizens have suffered due to the EU’s free movement laws.

“In recent years, hundreds of thousands of Eastern Europeans have come to Britain to do a job,” British journalist and Brexit proponent Douglas Murray said to Vox, arguing that this has “undercut the native working population.”

Politically, many U.K. politicians support Brexit because they believe that the EU threatens British sovereignty. The EU’s executive branch, the European Commission (EC), cannot be directly accountable to the U.K. government. British leaders have very mild influence on the selection of the EC’s members and their selection only occurs every five years—therefore, the U.K. does not have total sovereignty.

Boris Johnson won the 2015 General Election and as promised, a referendum was held to get citizens’ opinion on whether or not the U.K. should leave the EU in 2016.

51.9 percent of the electorate voted in favor of leaving the EU, appearing to be in line with the typical political rhetoric of the time. However, according to The Washington Post, “At about 1:00 a.m. Eastern time, about eight hours after the polls closed, Google reported that searches for ‘what happens if we leave the EU’ had more than tripled” within Britain, and many people were reported to say that if given another chance, they would vote to stay. 

These results led to negative reactions from financial markets worldwide, a stock market plunge and a significant decline in the value of the British pound. Almost immediately after the vote, Prime Minister David Cameron announced that he would resign as Prime Minister and as Leader of the Conservative Party within Parliament. While this vote was not legally binding, leaders at the time had promised to implement Brexit if the decision supported leaving the EU, and this impactful economic decision could cause short-term suffering almost everywhere.

After over three years of multiple delays and arguments within Parliament and across the globe, the U.K. is now on its third Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, appointed by Parliament in July 2019. 

Johnson has publicly committed to leaving the EU by Oct. 31, a date that has been disputed by the U.K. Parliament, who passed a law to force an extension. The U.K. has recently requested a three month extension for Brexit as Johnson has struggled to get adequate support from fellow lawmakers. 

According to The Washington Post, on Friday, Oct. 25, European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva announced that after talks, 27 ambassadors from the EU’s other nations have accepted the idea of an extension and their “work will continue in the coming days.” 

While these ambassadors have decided that an extension is necessary, they have not agreed on a timeline for this delay. According to The Washington Post, a diplomat who requested to remain anonymous in the midst of Brexit decisions said, “We are not very far, and there is no doubt we will find a deal early next week,” hinting that this decision will be made fairly promptly and announced in a statement, rather than lengthy procedures within the EU.

On Sunday, Oct. 27, two British opposition parties officially proposed an earlier election date than the Dec. 12 election offered by Boris Johnson in an attempt to force the Conservative-led government to delay the final decision on its impending EU deal. This election proposal could force Johnson to delay debate in the U.K. Parliament, stripping an issue critical to his campaign. This proposal will ensure that Johnson must choose between holding an election to help its representation within Parliament and its end goal of executing Brexit before said election.

Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson told the BBC, “The challenge is absolutely on [the Prime Minister], because if he is serious about wanting an election and if he’s genuine about having an election before Christmas, then he can back this bill.”

As of Oct. 28, the EU agreed to delay Brexit until Jan. 31, increasing the chances of a U.K. election before the end of the year and ending any hope of a departure by Johnson’s promised deadline this week.

Professor of Economics and International Studies Tarron Khemraj said that “there was a net benefit to Britain for being part of the EU.” Khemraj believes that the U.K.’s move from a common market to “likely a free trade area” will not have a significant impact in the long run, but that “five years of negative impact is a long time, so there’s a lot of suffering,” within the short term. 

Information for this article was gathered from Vox, the Washington Post and the BBC.

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