By Sarah Frazer || Staff Writer
Photos courtesy of BBC.com
Professor Fontana sought to answer the question, “What is Brexit?” this past Thursday in his presentation on Brexit, which was hosted by F&M’s Model United Nations.
In fewer than fifty days, on March 29, 2019, the UK will officially be out of the European Union. However, no one really knows what that means.
Professor Fontana explained that what “Brexit” is depends on whom you ask and their subjective interpretation of it. Indeed, when millions of British citizens cast their ballots to leave or to remain over two years ago, no one knew what they were voting for. In the Brexit referendum, voters were given two choices: to leave the EU or not. This binary choice failed to give voters the ability to express their true desires since voting leave does not answer, among other questions whether one wants a Hard or Soft Brexit. And a vote in favor of remaining does not paint a full picture either, since one can vote to remain and still want to change Britain’s place in the EU.
Many people were made false promises by the Leave campaign, which declared that the UK would have hundreds of millions more pounds per week to spend on the NHS. Yet after the referendum, Nigel Farage admitted they could not make that guarantee. Given that the complexity of Britain leaving or staying in the EU was not understood by millions of people and that their votes are impossible to interpret in any detail, Professor Fontana wondered whether the referendum truly represented the will of the people.
Regardless, Brexit is happening, with or without a deal between the UK and EU, so it is useful to consider how this happened and what could happen now. According to Fontana, the story of how Britain ended up voting to leave is more a story of Conservative Party politics than some great demand to leave from the public. In 2013, then-Prime Minister David Cameron agreed to hold a referendum if the Conservatives were re-elected in 2015 since, at the time, the Tories were in a Coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats. The Conservatives were concerned about winning reelection and with the makeup of their party, which has had deeply divided views over Europe. Fontana explained that this divide has plagued the party since Thatcher. The Conservative Party is the most plagued by divisions over Europe than any of the parties.
Furthermore, in 2013, there was a surge in support for UKIP in local elections, which was worrisome to the Conservative Party. Thus, Cameron made a political calculation to put the question up to a referendum if his party won. Fontana argued that he was “passing the buck to the people,” so he and his party “don’t have to make the tough decision.” Cameron hoped it would “diminish the internal tensions that exist in the conservative party.” Now, no one can say what will happen. Recently, Prime Minister Theresa May’s “plan suffered the largest defeat in Parliament’s history.” Many MPs from her own party voted against her Brexit deal, and May lost by a wide margin.
It was unprecedented. That Britain may leave without a deal creates a lot of uncertainty about what will happen. The entire British economy could be affected. Many questions will be left unanswered such as whether British and EU citizens will have freedom of movement across the UK border. Fontana argued that, while many Leave voters were motivated by the notion of “taking back control in terms of their immigrations policy,” seventy percent of British people are in favor of free movement of EU citizens, which is what leaving the EU would complicate. In other words, according to Fontana, Britain already had a lot of control in terms of immigration from non-EU citizens, so that is not necessarily even what Leave voters opted to change.
Probably one of the largest sticking points is the contentious issue of what will happen to Northern Ireland. The EU has said it would have to remain a part of the common market until they find a reasonable solution, but that means indefinitely. The European Union will also face costs, such as a significant budget reduction, an end to the free movement of people from the EU into the UK and vice versa. Three million people from Europe live in UK.
No one knows what will happen to them in less than fifty days, The EU will lose a major trading partner and will lose significant fishing rights off the coast of the UK once it leaves the Union. Lastly, Professor Fontana posited, Britain will face the question of who it will blame now that it will no longer have the EU to blame for all its problems.
Senior Sarah Frazer is a Staff Writer. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.