The 23rd June 2016 marked the beginning of a long divorce between the United Kingdom and the EU. The royal nation saw a marginal win for the Brexiteers with a winning percentage of just over 50% in both circumstances. Scotland and Northern Ireland were more explicit in their views, showing a keen backing to remain within the EU. Unfortunately for political analysts, the breakdown of results, whereby normally there are obvious ‘left and right’ divides, could not be used to characterize the UK’s demise in the European political arena. Some conservatives voted to leave, so too did the working class, while in contrast, some conservatives voted to stay, so too the working class.
As reported by the BBC, there is a deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the democratic system in the UK. A mini case study was conducted on the South Welsh town, Port Talbot, known in recent times for being economically well looked after by the EU. However, an overwhelming majority of these people voted to leave the EU. This had little to do with immigration, the economy, or even British patriotism and advocating for sovereign borders, rather it appears to be a stance against the interconnectedness of the modern world. Port Talbot’s steel industry is controlled from Mumbai, and it seems that the residents of the small South Welsh town are displeased with domestic restrictions that globalization entails.
The Polish community in the United Kingdom has been a contentious topic in immigration circles for the last few years, especially seeing as close to 1 million Poles now make the UK their home. However, a Conservative Party member from the Cotswolds, a rural English area, highlighted how two whole shopping aisles in the local Tesco’s has now been strictly dedicated to Polish food. The concern here was of cultural change, as traditional customs and norms were eradicated and the people were left unawares. Even the Brexit bus slogan took a swing at the British government, “We send the EU 350 million pound[s] a week, let’s fund our NHS instead.” For years, the National Health System has received public criticism for a variety of issues, and so Brexiteers believe that leaving the EU will significantly help the national government turn around unresolved issues, like the NHS saga.
One of the most pressing concerns that came with Brexit was the economy, more specifically, how the market will react, and will the UK stay in the single market. Between July and September, the economy grew faster than expected with a 0.6% rise, in addition, there was a 0.5% rise in inflation further highlighted by a period of mass spending post-Brexit. This unexpected positivity in the market is a welcome surprise to Brexiteers, however, it will be a few years before anyone can properly gauge the economic effects due to Brexit. This will most likely depend on whether Theresa May opts to stay in the single market or takes a hard approach by cutting off all European free trade ties.
The biggest challenge for Mrs. May is about when Britain will invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which highlights the means for the separation of Nation State from the EU. Mrs. May’s critics have raised their eyes at her ambiguity with Brexit so far, however, in more promising signs she has publicly declared that she intends to commence the formal ‘leave’ process by March this year. By this time, the people will want to know what her plans are and how much or little she will bargain with the EU. Moreover, one-sixth of the UK constitution is compliant with EU law, and so it will take many years to properly sort out what stays and what goes. The process becomes further complicated as the future trade deal between the UK and the EU will need the backing of over 30 nations across Europe, let alone the countries who require referendums for matters, such as these.
The issue of immigration was of equal concern for many Brits throughout the process and it has been relatively clear that the UK wants to assert sovereignty over its borders by taking a tougher stance on immigration. The challenge for the UK is that the EU may allow the UK access to the single market if they choose to take a much more lenient stance on immigration. It will be decisions like these that define the United Kingdom for the next generation, and could well decide Mrs. May’s fate as Prime Minister, especially if she puts too many feet wrong.