Brexit and the Controversies Around it
Above: British and European Union flags
On March 23, a little less than a month ago, hundreds of thousands of British people took to the streets to protest Brexit. On June 23, 2016, 52% of Britons voted for Brexit, shorthand for Britain’s split from the European Union (EU), while 48% voted against the split.
One of the main motivators for the Brexit vote was the refugee crisis. In 2015 over one million migrants and refugees crossed into Europe, a majority of which came from war torn countries, such as Syria, creating disputes over Europe surrounding how to deal with the influx of people. With the arrival of these immigrants into the UK came a fear much like one in America – unemployment. Similar to America’s refugee crisis, this ties into a larger theme of xenophobia that has been fueling anti-immigration thoughts and beliefs.
As Francis Moriarty, a 15-year-old England native said, “People are blaming [immigrants] for stealing our jobs and making people in our country unemployed.” On the other hand, the 48% of voters who voted against Brexit have talked about the drastic negative consequences that will come with a split from the European Union, such as it becoming harder and more expensive to move goods between the U.K. and rest of Europe.
Another controversy that has accompanied Brexit is the question of hard Brexit versus soft Brexit. Hard Brexit is defined as the almost automatic leave of Britain from the European Union, breaking away completely from their rules, laws, and systems. Soft Brexit refers to Britain leaving the EU but still staying closely aligned with them. As The Economist defines it as, “a soft Brexit means staying within both the EU’s single market (like Norway) and its customs union (like Turkey). Soft Brexiteers are willing to be bound by EU rules and tariffs even though Britain will lose any say in making them.”
While Francis is one of the many people completely against Brexit, Emma supports a soft split, saying, “While everyone’s arguing about what steps to take next, if no one makes a better decision or improvement on what to do, the automatic default is that they are going to have to do a hard Brexit which I’m guessing is why people want to be like, ‘Just don’t go through with Brexit at all.’ A lot of people support the ideas of Brexit, just not a hard Brexit.”
Through Brexit, Britain will end free movement, the right for people in Europe to freely move to Britain and vice versa, which has also created a lot of controversy. While many working-class people support this, seeing immigrants as threats to their jobs, for many young people hoping to study abroad in Europe, this becomes a problem. Interestingly, although many of the changes that Brexit will bring directly affect young people in Britain, 90% of people over 65 votes, while only 64% of 18-24 year-olds came to the polls. This discrepancy in ages does not seem to be specific to Britain, as in the recent 2018 American elections, only an estimated 30% of people aged 18-29 voted.
As Olivia Caplin (21’) says, “It is really important to vote. I think a lot of the time people don’t vote because they think, ‘oh I don’t like either option and what i’m doing isn’t really going to affect anything,’ while in reality, you have a lot more effect on people than you realize. It might feel like you are a very small part of the big picture, but your vote matters and you can enact change in the world around you.”