The Brexit Moment Is Here
On the night of June 23rd, 2016, the British people made the historic and unprecedented decision to “Brexit,” casting the official vote to leave the European Union. After more than three-and-a-half years of negotiating, debating, and much division, the day has finally come. The United Kingdom’s departure has begun.
This has not been an easy journey for the UK. The British Exit campaign, so-called “Brexit,” left in its wake two resigned Prime Ministers, David Cameron and Theresa May, one resigned Speaker of the House, two elections, one of which resulted in a hung Parliament, a weakened Labour party, a shattered Liberal Democrats party, and a strengthened Scottish National Party. The dust may be finally settling, but there is much cleaning up to do, and Boris Johnson’s administration has its work cut out for it.
Though Prime Minister Johnson’s optimism came through loud and clear in his Brexit Address, he immediately recognized the anxiety that this move is sure to cause after the tumultuous 1,317 days since the Brexit vote first became official:
“For many people this is an astonishing moment of hope, a moment they thought would never come. And there are many of course who feel a sense of anxiety and loss. And then of course there is a third group, perhaps the biggest, who had started to worry that the whole political wrangle would never come to an end.”
Johnson’s Brexit Address was livestreamed via Facebook.
What comes next?
The UK may have left the EU, but it is not completely cut free yet. The UK is no longer a voting member of the EU, but it is still part of the EU economic bloc during its ambitiously short 11 month transition period. Boris Johnson and his administration now have 11 months to negotiate its future relationship with the EU, negotiate a new trade deal with the US and China, as well as new trade deals with all of the UK’s other primary trading partners. This is no easy task, as any relationship with the EU must be unanimously agreed upon by all 27 members.
The US will also pose a challenge to negotiations, as Donald Trump is notorious for having a rather protectionist “America First” view on trade relationships with other countries. Future trade relationships with both the US and China will be further complicated by the current trade war between the two countries, which the UK is likely to get dragged into while attempting to negotiate new trade deals, which could hinder negotiations with one or both countries.
Let’s not count out Boris Johnson yet though, as when he became Prime Minister he was told by the EU and by UK politicians that he could not negotiate a new deal with the EU, but he managed to do so despite those warnings.
Back in September of 2014, Scotland had an independence referendum in which remaining as part of the UK won with 55.3% of the vote, while leaving the UK received 44.7% of the vote. This referendum had the highest turnout rate in UK history, where 84.6% of eligible voters participated in the referendum. Scotland was told at the time by the First Minister of Scotland, Alex Salmond, that the referendum would be a “once in a generation” event. Fast forward not even two whole years later to the June 2016 Brexit referendum, and calls for a new Scottish independence referendum started to be made in earnest. During the Brexit vote, Scotland voting overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU, with every constituency and 62% of the total population voting Remain.
With Brexit being so unpopular in Scotland, many in Scotland, including the Scottish National Party (SNP), started calling for a new independence referendum if the UK leaves the EU. With the SNP now much stronger thanks to its impressive performance in the December 2019 General Election, there is a chance a new referendum could be held, despite Boris Johnson’s insistence that he does not want another Scottish independence referendum.
So if a new independence referendum were held, how would it go in a post-EU Scotland? Back in the 2014 referendum the #1 reason voters chose to stay in the UK was for retention of the Pound sterling, the UK’s currency. The Pound is weaker today than it was in 2014, back then 1 Pound was the equivalent 1.62 US dollars, while today 1 pound equals 1.32 US dollars. With a weaker pound, it is possible that many people who voted to stay in the UK last time would not have as good a reason to vote likewise this time.
Meanwhile, extensive polling has been done over the past year on Scottish Independence in anticipation of Brexit, and in a YouGov poll conducted from January 22nd to January 27th 2020 found leaving the UK having a 1-point lead for the first time since March 2017, with 43% saying they would vote to leave, 42% saying they would vote to stay, and 10% saying they are undecided. Despite this, staying in the UK still holds a few percentage points lead in the polling averages.
As the first chapter of the UK’s Brexit adventure comes to a close, a new chapter begins. The UK still has a tough road ahead, and how well it can navigate the next set of obstacles will make or break Brexit. Will a newly liberated United Kingdom set a shining example of how well a nation can do independent of the EU, or will it become a somber reminder of the consequences of leaving a powerful economic bloc behind in a global economy dominated by the US and China? Only time will tell.
Evan M. Sage
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