A Brief History
On January 31, 2020, European Union member the United Kingdom of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will no longer be a member of what amounted to a “United States of Europe.” Back in the day, Napoleon Bonaparte dreamed of a “United States of Europe,” a collection of nationalities united in a common cause (presumably led by him, of course!) as the premier “country” in the world. This dream was (sort of) realized in 1993 when the Maastricht Treaty went into effect, but now has suffered an enormous blow to its power, prestige and population.
Consisting of 28 member countries with a total population of over 513 million people, the EU is an evolutionary descendent of previous European cooperation treaties and organizations. The focus of the formation of the EU was to create an enormously powerful trading bloc with no internal barriers to free trade between members and free movement of the people of the member countries. By presenting a united front to the rest of the world (primarily Asia and the United States), the EU would collectively have greater bargaining power than the member countries would have individually. As of 2002, a united monetary policy has been in effect, creating the currency known as the Euro. (The United Kingdom kept its traditional Pound system.)
The success of the EU is demonstrated statistically by the fact that it contains only a bit over 7% of the World’s population, and yet commands over 24% of the World’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product, a measure of wealth). Although each member country maintains its own military and government, and of course many of the members are also members of the NATO alliance, the collective will of the EU is represented by a common ambassador to the United Nations and other countries, such as the United States, have a separate ambassador to the EU.
Prior to “Brexit,” no member country has pulled out of the EU or even its predecessor organizations. In 2016, the voters in the UK surprised and shocked the world when they voted 52% to 48% in favor of leaving the EU. The UK had been a member since 1973 when it joined the European Economic Community (EEC), a predecessor agreement.
Since the contentious vote to leave the EU, the UK has been torn between factions advocating all sorts of different proposals as to how to deal with what is commonly referred to as “Brexit” (Britain Exit). Agreements between the UK and the EU as to how to continue or not continue cooperative trade, law enforcement and travel policies remain largely unresolved. Not even the British people could come to an agreement about how to negotiate with the EU for a smooth exit and continued cooperation.
The UK removes about 67.5 million people from the EU by leaving and taking its $52 trillion GDP with it (ranked 6th in the world). They also take with them the annoying habit of driving on the wrong side of the road!
Brexit will take place at 2300 hours on January 31, 2020 (Greenwich Mean Time). The remainder of the year, 2020, is considered a transition period when many of the kinks are to be worked out in the details of how the national divorce will shape up. A notable issue was the border situation between Ireland and Northern Ireland, as Ireland will remain in the EU while Northern Ireland is part of the UK and no longer an EU member. Customs, tariffs, travel, laws, refugees, immigration and other issues have proven contentious both within the UK itself and between the UK and the EU. Imagine the headaches involved if Texas decided to secede from the United States, as has been suggested in recent years!
Time will tell if the British people made the right choice to drop out of the European Union, or if they will instead regret the rash decision. What do you think will happen?
Question for students (and subscribers): Did the UK make a mistake by voting to leave the EU? Please let us know in the comments section below this article.
Your readership is much appreciated!
For more information, please see…
Dunt, Ian. Brexit: What the Hell Happens Now?: A Quick Guide to Britain’s Biggest Issue. Canbury Press, 2019.
O’Rourke, Kevin. A Short History of Brexit. Penguin UK, 2019.