Panelists look at the history of Brexit

November 1, 2019

Brexit is part of a history of tensions between the European Union (EU) and the United Kingdom (U.K.), according to panelists who spoke as the second part of a panel series hosted by the Brandeis Center for German and European Studies (CGES) and the Department of Politics. 

This event’s panelists included Professor Graham Wilson from Boston University. Originally from England, Wilson was there to provide an “in-house sense” of the situation and explain the ideology of those in favor of Brexit. Professor Daniela Caruso from Boston University provided insight into the legality of Brexit, discussing the entanglement of the U.K. and the EU. Professor Mai’a Cross from Northeastern University spoke about potential catalysts of the desire to leave and explained the potential effects of the situation. 

Wilson started the lecture by stating that the EU agreed to a further extension of Britain staying in the EU earlier that day. He then mentioned the background of Brexit, saying it won by a vote of 52 to 48 percent in a national referendum. (The referendum was advisory, or not legally binding that the U.K. leave the EU, according to a BBC article.) He recounted potential ways that Brexit could have been avoided, saying repeatedly that if David Cameron hadn’t been elected, then likely none of this would be happening. 

He continued by commenting on how the U.K. and the EU haven’t always gotten along. The first example he shared is how England refused to give up the British pound in favor of the euro. He went on to discuss how England was often uncomfortable with the EU’s open door policy; English people are against immigrants from other countries, said Wilson. Conservative English people also didn’t like that non-English people were deciding on English policy outside of England, according to Wilson. 

Professor Caruso then began her lecture on the legal aspects of Brexit. She said that the support of Brexit came from a feeling of being caged. She began by expanding on Wilson’s earlier point about negative feelings arising from decisions being made outside of England. 

English people used to be satisfied with the voting system in the EU because votes needed to be unanimous to go into effect, said Caruso. She explained that with a change in the EU system, which required only a majority of the vote, England lost some of its power and reacted poorly. 

She then pointed out that while the U.K.’s economy was doing well in certain aspects due to the EU, some other parts of the economy (like construction) were being left behind, further adding to the resentment towards the EU. 

The last panelist to talk was Cross. She started by talking about how the Brexit vote was unfair, as lies and propaganda about the situation were fed to the public. She also suspected cheating in the election. The Electoral Commission of the U.K. found that the Vote Leave campaign, led by the now Prime Minister of the U.K. Boris Johnson, illegally exceeded the campaign funding limit and fined the group 61,000 pounds, according to a BBC article. 

She spoke about how this was a terrible decision for the U.K., since the EU is “overwhelmingly stronger” than the U.K. She also mentioned that this exit will allow the EU to pass desired reforms that the U.K. resisted. 

Changing topics, she examined the catalysts for the EU’s acquisition of power, identifying four: the Cold War, the Vulcan Wars, the Iraq War and the current political climate. She argues that the Cold War helped to create EU relations because the U.S. was starting to get involved in international affairs and the EU needed to remain strong and united. 

In the Vulcan wars of the 1990s, the power of decision-making went to the U.S. rather than the EU, she explains. In 2003, the Bush Iraq War divided EU member-states and created many new discussions about security policies, said Cross. She also mentioned that this is when the EU started conducting humanitarian missions. 

The panel closed with a Q&A session from the audience.

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