Brexit: What was it?

Some of the questions this post answers are: (5-minute read)

  1. 1. What does Brexit mean?
  2. 2. What makes this issue so complicated?
  3. 3. What are the key events that occurred throughout this 4-year process?
  4. 4. What are the consequences for both Great Britain and the European Union?

1: What does Brexit mean?

“Brexit” is a mnemonic that combines “Britain” and “exit,” in order to describe Great Britain’s interest in exiting the European Union.

2: What makes this issue so complicated?

An updated map of the European Union in 2020 Maproom

Most European countries are part of the EU, and due to this, citizens of EU-affiliated nations are able to live, work, and retire anywhere in any of these countries without a passport. Also, EU member states can trade with each other without tariffs on their goods/services.

The UK has been a pivotal part of the EU for nearly 50 years, and throughout this period, the UK and EU member nations have built strong economic and diplomatic ties. 60% of exports from the UK to the rest of the world occurs as a member of the EU, and 12% of the UK’s GDP is linked to exports to these member nations. Clearly, Great Britain’s financial dependence on the EU means that a “cold exit,” or a Brexit without reaching a mutual agreement with the EU, would prove disastrous for both parties involved. That being said, neither side will budge on their main objectives.

A graph showing who enters and leaves the UK each year between 1991 and 2017

The British’s primary goal is to restrict the recent influx of immigrants from poorer EU member nations into their country. This restrictions includes travel between Northern Ireland (British-owned) and Ireland (part of the EU). However, the EU can leverage the UK’s economic dependence on them to offer up immigration negotiations; at the very least, the EU wants to keep travel open between Northern Ireland and Ireland.

3: What are the key events that occurred throughout this 4-year process?

Here is a shortened timeline of Brexit negotiations:

  • June 24, 2016: Prime Minister David Cameron resigns. A day earlier, the United Kingdom voted in favor of leaving the European Union (EU), with 51.89% wanting to leave and 48.11% to remain.
  • July 13, 2016: Theresa May becomes Prime Minister.
  • March 28, 2017: Theresa May signs important documents which officially kickstart the UK’s exit from the EU.
  • Jan 15, 2019: Instead of a hard, strict Brexit, May offers a “soft Brexit” to voters, which leaves most economic ties with the European Union intact, but also maintains open travel between Ireland and Northern Ireland. This idea is not taken well by the British Parliament, who shuts down the Brexit deal by a margin of 202 to 432 votes.
May arguing at the House of Commons on January 7, 2019.
  • May 24, 2019: May resigns from her position as Prime Minister after Parliament rejects two more versions of her Brexit deal.
  • July 24, 2019: Boris Johnson becomes Prime Minister with plans for a hard Brexit deal similar to May’s version with one critical addition: partially limited immigration between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Although this is not ideal for conservative Britishers, it will definitely slow immigration into the UK and is a step up from May’s deal.
  • October 17, 2019: Boris Johnson reaches an agreement with both Parliament and the EU for his Brexit plan. Additionally, the date for Brexit is set at January 31, 2020.
  • January 31, 2020: The United Kingdom officially leaves the European Union.

Until December 31, 2020, Great Britain is in a transition period out of the EU. At this stage, all EU rules and regulations still apply to the UK, so little will change until after this period. The UK and EU need this time to further negotiate their future relationship.

British citizens celebrate Brexit by burning down flags of the EU

4: What are the consequences for both Great Britain and the European Union?

Great Britain: Britishers voted for Brexit primarily due to its emotional appeal. Unlike most European countries, citizens of the UK think more of themselves as British citizens than as EU citizens. Some voters even remember a time before the UK entered the EU in 1973. Thoughts of leaving the EU came at a time when nationalism for Great Britain was increasing rapidly, and the uptick of immigrants made native citizens feel as though they were living in a “less British” Britain. This is so important to them that they are willing to accept the nearly-certain negative economic repercussions that follow; a 2017 poll found 61% of UK citizens were willing to “damage the economy” if it meant continuing with Brexit.

Although no expert can ascertain their predictions of how the British economy will be affected, it largely depends on how the UK handles negotiations with the EU. Most likely, the UK economy economy will fall considerably. Already, its economic growth has slowed, companies have relocated their headquarters to EU member nations, and the price of goods and services in the UK has increased. The British government stated that even if a trade agreement with the EU is reached (meaning the UK would have lower or no tariffs on goods to and from the EU), there will still be a 6.7% decrease in economic growth in the UK over 15 years.

A graph which compares consumer prices between the UK and the average of rest of the G7 countries (Germany, US, France, Italy, Canada, Japan). The gray line in the middle of the graph represents June 23, 2016, when the UK first voted to leave the European Union.
London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

From a diplomatic standpoint, Brexit will only accelerate Great Britain’s fall from global prominence. As the rest of the world continues to industrialize, small but well-developed Europeans nations will be overtaken economically by developing nations with larger land areas and populations. A report by professional services giant PwC estimates which ten countries will have the highest GDP’s in the future, and it found that emerging economies with rapidly increasing populations, such as India, China, Mexico, and Indonesia, are set to surpass all individual European nations in GDP by 2050. Thus, the UK has fallen from 1st in the 1800s, to 2nd in the early 1900s, to 9th in 2020, and will fall to 10th by 2050. The best thing these smaller European nations can do to stay prominent is to ally together like how the European Union has.

An info-graphic showing how the EU spends its 2020 budget, including the UK’s contributions of over €15 billion
Council of the European Union

European Union: With the UK included, the EU’s GDP rivals that of the United States, and its population exceeds the US by over 115 million. Although Great Britain does make up 12 to 15% of the European Union’s economy, which is a considerable portion, even without the UK, the EU will continue to collectively be a world superpower. On the other hand, the UK cannot be a world superpower without the EU.

That being said, there are still two areas of concern. The first is a deficit in funds originally from Great Britain. The EU charges its member nations billions of dollars for its multiple projects, so without the 2nd largest economy in the Europe, the financial burden on the EU will increase. The second concern is the slim possibility for Brexit to actually be beneficial for the United Kingdom. If so, other nations would want to follow suit, which would only increase the aforementioned financial burden.

However, for now, that seems near impossible. Most EU citizens begun to grasp just how complicated an exit would be, and most want to stay: a poll from European Parliament states that 68% of EU citizens want their nations to stay remain in the union.


The main 5 things to know about Brexit:

  1. “Brexit” references Great Britain’s exit from the European Union
  2. Britishers voted to leave the EU because they think too many immigrants are entering their country
  3. The key topics which the two sides focus on are trading and immigration; the UK wants a favorable deal on trade in the EU, and the EU wants a favorable deal on immigration into the UK from the EU
  4. At the end of January 2020, the UK left the EU, but future negotiations will continue until December 2020
  5. Most experts believe Brexit is more harmful than beneficial for the UK, but British citizens remain hopeful for the best possible outcome


Featured photo: Daniel Leal-Olivas/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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