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Brexit wasn’t as simple as most think

| Tuesday, August 23, 2016

On June 23, 52 percent of the British people voted for their country to leave the European Union. Around the world, the decision was criticized and even mourned as a fatal blow to not only the world economy, but to the United Kingdom and to Europe as a whole. Political commentators asserted that Britain had started what would become the downfall of the entire European Union. Economic analysts pointed to the immediate sharp downturn in the British pound and the economic contraction worldwide. In the United States, it seemed obvious that 52 percent of people in Britain had made the wrong choice for their whole country and for the entire world. But it isn’t that simple.

I will grant that in the short-term, Brexit won’t be (and hasn’t been) great for the U.K. and probably for the entire world economically. The value of the pound has dropped the most Great Britain has seen in decades, and investors in the U.S. and Europe are worried about future problems that may arise. Furthermore, Britain itself is in turmoil. Its Prime Minister resigned and both major parties had to scramble to find (or throw out) their leadership, Scotland has renewed its call for independence, and suddenly Northern Ireland wants to recognize the latter half of its name and rejoin Notre Dame’s namesake. Undoubtedly, this year and probably the next 5-10 years will see Great Britain undergo great change and a severe economic contraction.

But the simplicity stops there for many reasons. For one, no one really knows what Brexit means. Economists have never seen an event like this — the fifth largest economy in the world leaving the single largest market in the world. Any economic forecaster who makes predictions is making a variety of assumptions that may or may not be valid. Could Britain spiral out of control economically? Absolutely. But could it also do better on their own? Absolutely. The economics of it is certain within the next 5-10 years, but ambiguous after that.

On another level, though, Brexit is much more complicated than what us Americans have seen. Across America and across the world, most people have established that the reason British people wanted to leave the European Union is because of the same nativist, nationalist and racist sentiments that we have seen here in the U.S. Brexit has been compared to Donald Trump in that people in Britain don’t like immigrants stealing their jobs and their benefits and they want to get rid of them. But it’s not that simple, and it’s not similar at all to the ideas that have created Donald Trump.

Having worked in the U.K. Parliament this past spring, I’ve seen firsthand the mindset and the policies of people who wanted Britain to leave. In fact, the MP I worked for was one of the foremost campaigners for them to leave; much of my work was research on the reasons why the country should leave. And yes, immigration was a huge reason — but not in a racist or nativist way. Because of the EU, Britain is forced to take any and all EU citizens into their country with limited screening and with no exceptions. Because of this, EU citizens can legally come to Britain, work and secure the greater benefits that Britain provides than their home country. Not only does this put incredible strain on their school, health and public service systems, but it also takes away jobs from British citizens. I understand that this seems similar to the Donald Trump argument, but it’s not. To me, there is not a problem with wanting to protect your country’s own people. They don’t dislike the migrants, they don’t dislike other Europeans either. Rather, they dislike having this policy and so many others handed down to them without their approval.

Undoubtedly, Brexit has been and will continue to be bad for Britain and for the world. Within the next five years, Britain will see its economy falter and its place in the world be questioned. But beyond that, there are no guarantees. Britain took a chance on its future. It wanted sovereignty and power over its own laws and regulations. Quite frankly, Britain is more like America than like Europe. It’s a proud nation that once ruled most of the world. It wants that power and influence back not only in the world but in its own country. And I don’t fault them for taking a gamble in order to pursue that.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • João Pedro Santos

    “Because of the EU, Britain is forced to take any and all EU citizens into their country with limited screening and with no exceptions. Because of this, EU citizens can legally come to Britain, work and secure the greater benefits that Britain provides than their home country. Not only does this put incredible strain on their school, health and public service systems, but it also takes away jobs from British citizens.”
    This is FALSE. Yes, EU citizens can legally come to Britain and live there. However, they aren’t entitled to benefits unless they work in Britain. And since most immigrants are young, healthy, able-bodied people, the British universal healthcare system (called NHS) won’t have to spend a lot of resources with them. They may have to spend healthcare resources with their children on routine check-ups, but the taxes their parents take cover way more than that.
    An article on the Guardian explaining that: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/nov/05/eu-migrants-uk-gains-20bn-ucl-study
    A Youtube video which is neutral regarding Brexit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RgVIQWItFE8
    Supporting Brexit isn’t necessarily xenophobic. Lying about immigrants is xenophobic.