Written by Hailey Hannigan
To understand Brexit and why the United Kingdom’s pending split from the European Union (EU) is causing such a stir, we look to the origins of the EU and their relationship with the UK. After almost half a century of continental war and deep economic depression in the 20th century, Europe desperately needed to rebuild economically. Germany, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Luxembourg and Belgium, known as the “Original Six”, signed the 1957 Rome Treaty to create the European Economic Community (EEC), allowing for steel and industrial materials to flow tariff-free between those countries. Denmark, Ireland and the United Kingdom joined in 1973 with nineteen other European nations joining later, Croatia being the latest to join in 2013 (EUROPA 2018). The EEC morphed into the European Communities, a customs union, in 1965 after the addition of new member countries (Kesselman 2018). This international union was brought about for two main reasons: for economic cohesion and to avoid a continental war as they had just experienced in the World Wars.
The modern day European Union entailed the creation of a common currency, multiple judicial and financial institutions and allowing the free movement of people between nations for work and educational pursuits. But bringing together 28 nation-states with diverse culture, differing economic structures and laws into a cohesive unit did not come easily. The EU’s inept response to Arab Spring and politically tumultuous Eastern European nations led many Europeans to doubt the effectiveness of such a body (Bremberg 2016).
The United Kingdom, for instance, has been hesitant to involve itself with the European conglomerate since the beginning. Many British citizens have been actively calling to leave the European Union since 2013, with Prime Minister David Cameron undertaking renegotiations of the UK’s relationship with the European Union (Pruitt 2017). In 2016, the UK held a referendum to leave the European Union, and 52% of voters were in favor of the British exit of the EU, commonly coined Brexit. The vote passed, and 29 March 2019 is the anticipated date of the UK’s separation.
Bremberg, Niklas. 2016. “Making sense of the EU’s response to the Arab uprisings: foreign policy practice at times of crisis.” European Security 25, no. 4: 423-441, https://doi.org/10.1080/09662839.2016.1236019.
EUROPA. “European Union – European Commission.” European Union. July 02, 2018. Accessed September 13, 2018. https://europa.eu/european-union/about-eu/countries_en#tab-0-1.
Kesselman, Mark, Joel Krieger, and William A. Joseph. Introduction to comparative politics: political challenges and changing agendas. Cengage Learning, 2018.
Pruitt, Sarah. “The History Behind Brexit.” History.com. March 29, 2017. Accessed September 13, 2018. https://www.history.com/news/the-history-behind-brexit.