What's Brexit, Anyway? All About the U.K.'s Vote to Leave the European Union – And Why It Matters to Americans
Today, Britons head to the polls for a referendum on whether they’ll remain in the European Union. It’s a history-making vote that the British have nicknamed “Brexit.”
But what is a “Brexit?” And why should those of us across the pond care?
First off, let’s cover the basics.
What is a Brexit?
A Brexit is shorthand for “British exit” from the European Union. If Britons choose to leave – to Brexit – it will be monumental. No country has ever left the EU before. Trade deals will take years to renegotiate. The U.K.’s currency, the pound sterling, would undoubtedly hit a decades-long low in value, experts say.
The whole reason the country is even having a referendum is because of last year’s Conservative victory in the House of Commons – the party pledged to hold a vote on leaving the EU before the end of 2017.
Earlier this year, the vote was scheduled for June 23. The buildup has been increasingly hostile between the two sides – leave and remain – with polls nearly neck-and-neck, even hours before the voting began.
This animosity came to a head with the murder of British lawmaker Jo Cox last week. Cox was a Labour Party MP (Member of Parliment) who campaigned for Britain remaining in the EU. Eyewitnesses told The Guardian that her killer shouted “Britain first!” as he attacked her, and later gave his name as “Death to traitors, freedom for Britain,” which doesn’t leave much doubt the murder was politically motivated.
There was a slight swing in the remain camp’s favor following the national shock of Cox’s murder, but polls remain split almost evenly.
Who wants to stay in the EU – and why?
A slew of famous faces have publicly urged Britons to stay in the EU. Prime Minister David Cameron, who is calling the poll to appease internal party politics, has campaigned heavily to remain.
Those on the “remain” side cite economics as one of their primary arguments. As a member of the EU, the U.K. pays no tariffs on imports and exports to the rest of Europe.
Some economists say that the U.K. would take a huge economic risk if it leaves the EU. The pound’s value would certainly fall, trade with the rest of Europe would have to be renegotiated, and the move could ultimately drag down the economy, opponents of leaving argue. Cameron has said Brexit could create economic uncertainty for up to a decade.
Plus, “remain” supporters say that being a part of the EU gives the U.K. an voice in influencing European politics and polities, especially as one of the union’s wealthiest nations – and some believe, a stronger voice on the world’s political stage.
Who supports leaving the EU – and why do they want to go?
The popular former mayor of London, Boris Johnson – a member of David Cameron’s Conservative party – is leading the charge for the “leave” camp. Many have suggested he is using the political issue to springboard himself into the Prime Minister’s seat if Britons vote to exit the EU.
In the midst of the campaign, he compared the EU to Hitler’s Nazi Germany.
Several of the nation’s most influential newspapers have also come out in favor of leaving, including The Sun, The Daily Mail, The Daily Telegraph and The Sunday Times.
One of the biggest arguments for the those on team Brexit is immigration. Being a member of the EU means that any citizen of an EU nation – including those much poorer thank Britain like Bulgaria and Romania – can move to the U.K. whenever they want. Once there, they’re entitled to work and to receive taxpayer-funded welfare, just like a Briton. And the U.K. gets a lot of immigrants: According to Migration Watch, 330,000 immigrants arrived in the U.K. in 2015, and it’s estimated as many as 500 people arrive in the U.K. every single day.
Stuart Rose, former CEO for British chain Marks & Spencer has claimed that EU immigrants depress wages in the U.K. and take jobs from Britons.
Supporters of the “leave” movement also resent the control that EU politicians in Brussels have over U.K. laws and argue that British businesses would thrive with fewer regulations.
But how does this affect all of us across the pond? There’s a few reasons.
1. If there’s a Brexit, the pound could lose value – which will make the U.K. a more affordable destination for American visitors.
Good news for tourists? Traveling across the pond could get cheaper if the U.K. leaves the EU The U.K.’s currency, the pound, is notoriously strong – especially against the dollar. Currently, $1.40 will buy you £1. That’s already a weaker number than it has been in years past: A year ago, it would take $1.60 to get you £1. Economists predict that if a Brexit does indeed happen, the value will drop even further, to $ 1.35, the lowest the pound has been since 1985. That means that Americans visiting the U.K. won’t have to dig quite as deep into their pockets for a pint at the pub.
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2. But traveling within Europe could get more expensive.
Anyone who has ever studied abroad or gone on a multi-stop trip to Europe knows that it’s relatively easy to travel within Europe on the cheap, thanks to no-frills budget airlines like EasyJet and RyanAir. However, it’s the ease of travel within the EU that makes this inexpensive travel possible. New air service agreements would need to be put in place, which could ultimately result in a rise in fares.
“The single aviation area gives airlines freedom to fly across Europe,” an easyJet spokesman told The Daily Telegraph. “Since its introduction passengers have seen fares fall by around 40 per cent and routes increase by 180 per cent.”
Visa rules wouldn’t change for Americans, or even much for Britons – according to property and travel experts, it’s highly unlikely that other EU nations would require U.K. citizens to obtain a visa for travel.
So while it may be cheaper to travel to the U.K. for Americans, getting elsewhere in Europe from Britain may eat up more of your budget than you bargained for.
3. It could impact the U.S. economy.
Even though a Brexit would have the greatest fiscal impact on the economies Britain and the rest of the countries in the EU, the United States wouldn’t be completely exempt. The Brookings Institution estimates that a Brexit would push the markets down – although such a turn would be brief.
Additionally, any major economic turmoil in the U.K. would have an impact on U.S. corporate earnings, since nearly 3p percent of American earnings come from the U.K. To top it all off, Brexit could continue to push American interest and mortgage rates down.
4. The Queen supposedly has an opinion – and J.K. Rowling definitely does.
Lots of Britain’s best-known figures have spoken out about Brexit. Including, it may seem, the U.K.’s most famous face. Robert Lacey, one of Queen Elizabeth‘s leading biographers, has claimed that during recent dinner parties, she has been asking those around her to give her “three good reasons why Britain should be a part of Europe.”
While these claims may or may not reveal exactly what the Queen thinks about Brexit, it seems she’s enjoying the debate around the subject. She’s not the only member of her family who is invested. During a speech back in February, many believed Prince William was subtly endorsing Britain remaining in the EU when he spoke of nations working in partnership with another in February.
Despite speculation, the British royals have not publicly taken a stance on the issue
One person who has made her views perfectly clear? J.K. Rowling, who penned an essay on her website in support of remaining in the EU. She calls the referendum “the most divisive and bitter political campaigns ever waged within its borders” and says that a large motivator for the “leavers” is a form of nearsighted nationalism – forgetting that many workers for Britain’s National Health Service are immigrants themselves.
In a poll released Wednesday night by Opinium, leave is ahead by just one percentage point, 45-44. In another, released by TNS, leave is ahead two percentage points.
Only a few hours will tell whether Britons decide the “Brexit.”