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Brexit, everything you need to know

The UK decided to leave the EU and Prime Minister David Cameron has announced his resignation on the 23rd of June. But what is Brexit exactly?

On the 23rd of June a referendum was held in the United Kingdom (England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland) to decide whether the nation should remain in or leave the European Union. The United Kingdom decided to leave the Union and Prime Minister David Cameron has already announced his resignation. The political, economic and social consequences of this outcome are still uncertain as Europe (and the world) reacts from the initial shock.

What is Brexit?

The term Brexit was coined merging the words “Britain” and “exit” and is used to signify the UK leaving the EU.

Why was the referendum held?

Prime Minister David Cameron had promised to hold a referendum on Britain’s EU membership if he won the 2015 general election (which he did). The commitment was made to appease certain members of his Conservative Party and the UK Independence Party (UKIP).

 

These argued that Britain hadn’t had a say on whether it wants to be in the Union since 1975, when via a similar referendum it chose to stay in the European Community with over 67 per cent of votes in favour. The latter referendum was called by the Labour Party of then Prime Minister Harold Wilson and just like this year’s vote, it caused great division within the country’s two main parties (Labour and Conservatives).

 

British Prime Minister David Cameron © Dylan Martinez/AFP/Getty Images)
British Prime Minister David Cameron © Dylan Martinez/AFP/Getty Images

Who’s for Brexit and who’s against it?

Given that almost 52 per cent of those who voted chose to support Brexit and 48 per cent to remain in the EU, it emerges that UK citizens are quite evenly split on this issue. The final outcome confirmed polls published in mid-June that showed a shift in favour of the leave campaign.

Among policy-makers, far-right party UKIP, about half of the Conservatives (including London’s former Mayor Boris Johnson), some Labour members and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) campaigned for Britain to leave the EU.

On the other hand, Prime Minister Cameron, Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to a Finance Minister) George Osborne, as well as most of the Cabinet and the Labour and Liberal Democrat parties campaigned to stay. On the international scene, the heads of the United States, Germany and France, as well as major financial institutions including the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had called for the British to vote against Brexit.

What are their main arguments?

Most arguments for and against Brexit revolve around issues of sovereignty, the economy and immigration. Pro-Brexit campaigners (nicknamed Brexiteers) believe that EU law, which in their view often overrules UK law on key national issues like immigration and tax, is posing an increasing threat to sovereignty. They also argue that complex EU bureaucracy and high membership fees (13 billion British pounds in 2015) are holding it back financially, depriving it of money that could be spent on national health or education.

Furthermore, the high numbers of people migrating to the UK have also divided the public and experts on how this phenomenon impacts the country. Brexiteers deem it unsustainable, whilst pro-EU campaigners highlight the vast contribution that migrants make to the economy and society. They also argue that the current benefits the UK gets from being part of the EU, especially in terms of international trade and security, outweigh the costs of being a member.

Overall, both sides have been effective in using facts and figures to demonstrate the strength of their arguments. Take the economy. Some argue that this will suffer immediate and long-term losses if people vote to leave. Others, instead, sustain that freedom from EU rules and costs will make the country more prosperous.

European Union referendum postal voting form © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images
European Union referendum voting form © Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

What does the future look like?

The deep split among British citizens on this issue is a consequence of the high level of uncertainty about what the future and how the renegotiation between the government and with the EU will look like, which could take years, will look like. No one is certain of what such an agreement would look like.

It is therefore with doubt and uncertainty that British people went to the polls for one of the most important votes of their lives.

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