The UK has been stuck in limbo ever since the shocking referendum vote on June 23 to leave the EU. The country voted 51.9 percent to leave the union, becoming the first country ever to do so. This unprecedented vote is cause for major uncertainty over the country’s future, both in regards to the economy and immigration. This uncertainty was reinforced when the High Court ruled that Parliament must give its approval before the withdrawal process can begin because it is unclear whether or not Parliament will honor the referendum vote.
IOP fellow Philip Revzin, a journalist with extensive knowledge on Europe and Asia, is uncertain how the Brexit deal will formulate. “I think the best answer is we don’t know yet because this UK court ruling throws everything out the window,” Revzin said.
“[Leaving the EU has] never been done before and it starts a very intricate two year process of disentangling,” Revzin said. “If [Prime Minister Theresa May] can’t do it and Parliament has to do it, that gets very dicey because it’s not clear—it’s possible—but it’s not clear that Parliament, which passed the treaty in the first place, now has the majority to get out. There are members of both the Labor party and the Conservative party, and above all the Scottish Nationalist Party, who will vote to stay in, who will vote against Brexit, or against in this case invoking Article 50. What that does politically, we’re going to have to see because they have these robust debates in Britain. I think it’s far from done.” The government is appealing the ruling, with the hearing to happen on 5 December. If the court’s ruling is held, May would have to receive Parliament’s approval before triggering Article 50, and she would have to work with Parliament in constructing a deal. It is unclear which way the vote would swing, but several Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs have said they would vote against triggering Article 50.
In regards to the economy, Revzin explains that Brexit has, and will, extensively impact the markets and businesses. “The markets so far have voted pretty heavily against leaving—they don’t like it,” Revzin said. “The pound is way down, and the British stocks have been affected, particularly those that deal with Europe. Business as a whole doesn’t like it because London is the financial center of Europe and now it’s going to be much less likely to retain that position.”
Because London is the financial center of Europe, politicians who backed the Leave campaign would ideally like to maintain the current laws relating to tariffs and the movement of labor in an effort to maintain London’s global economic status. Some of Britain’s banks have stated that they are planning on relocating in 2017, so it is not clear that politicians will be able to have it both ways: leave the EU and keep big businesses and banks in London. Politicians are in uncharted waters leaving the EU and the uncertainty of this future is driving the markets down.
Revzin believes the biggest issue for people who backed the Leave campaign is immigration, however, like the politicians above, “they want the best of both possible worlds, which they’re not going to get,” Revzin said. “They want to stay in the common market for the goods and trade and services and movement of rich people, but they don’t want the free movement of everybody else, which being a member of the EU entails.” Immigration tensions are particularly high in Europe right now given the refugee crisis coming out of war-torn Middle East. Pundits speculated that the Brexit vote was particularly sensitive to this crisis, as was the continuation of Eastern European migrants entering the UK for work, resulting in growing nationalistic sentiments.
Additionally, Revzin believes that thirty years of deep-seated anger will contribute to making a comprehensive deal difficult. “This nonsense about what is wrong with Brussels’ bureaucrats and what is wrong with the EU started well before Brexit,” Revzin explains. “It started just before Margaret Thatcher and in her era, kind of from 1979 on, and was exacerbated by the British tabloid newspapers, which would take every little directive from Brussels aimed at consumer protection or harmonizing products and turn it into a defeat for Britain.”
An example of this stringent regulation was a law standardizing the amount of curve in bananas. Despite the story’s inaccuracy, British tabloids exaggerated the story, encouraging British resentment toward Brussels. “One of the British correspondents during the worst of this was Boris Johnson, who worked for the Daily Telegraph and the Times, and then later became Mayor of London, and is now the Foreign secretary. He was terrible,” Revzin said. “He would write all this nonsense, and I was in Brussels at the time and my editors would call up and would say ‘What about these straight bananas’ and I would say “don’t worry about it, that’s just nonsense””.
Essentially a propaganda campaign against Brussels, Revzin sees this episode as the impetus for Brexit. “I think [the campaign against Brussels] set the tone for Brexit, and then when there became a chance to get out, I think it was terribly handled by David Cameron who thought [the Leave campaign] would lose,” Revzin said. “He promised during his election campaign that he would put the issue to a referendum, convinced that it would lose and be done with, and then he was wrong.” Putting Brexit in this historical context is important to understanding the public’s sentiment and fears, and how the government should proceed in the future.
Revzin summarizes the Brexit phenomenon with the following analogy: “This is like the dog running after the truck and what happens when the dog catches the truck? He won’t know what to do with it. What’s he going to do with the truck? And they caught the truck.” What the British decide to do with that truck is anyone’s guess, least of all Revzin, despite spending a career covering the politics of the EU.