‘Brexit’ vote pits independence and identity against economic concerns

Post by IU Newsroom intern Annie Brackemyre

Today’s “Brexit” vote will decide the future of the United Kingdom’s relationship with Europe. Public opinion polls have swayed and show a divided U.K. Results are expected early Friday.

The vote is a manifestation of an underlying problem for European integration: The European Union fosters multilateral institutions but not a shared European identity.

Timothy Hellwig

Timothy Hellwig

The “Leave” camp argues that the EU’s influence on culture and judicial matters transcends the economic concerns that originally enticed the United Kingdom to join the European Economic Community in 1973.

“The major argument of the ‘Leave’ camp pertains mainly to appeals for independence and self-destiny for Britain,” said Timothy Hellwig, director of the Institute for European Studies in IU’s School of Global and International Studies. “Many, if not most, Britons are skeptical of the EU and see it as an unaccountable bureaucracy, located far away in Brussels, which is not in tune with the needs and desires of the British public.”

The “Remain” camp argues that the EU offers Britain security, increased influence and economic benefits.

“Britain will likely be worse off in terms of trade, commerce, investment and finance if it leaves Europe,” Hellwig said. “Also, advocates for the Remain side emphasize Britain’s historic role as a global and regional leader and point out that without influence throughout the EU, Britain’s economic and political role in the world would diminish.”

Today’s referendum asks U.K. voters: “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” Voters can choose either “Remain a member of the European Union” or “Leave the European Union.”

If Britons vote to leave, EU treaties dictate a process whereby European authority and regulations in the U.K. would incrementally recede over the next decade.

“Since Britain lies outside the Eurozone, macroeconomic policy would not change, though it is not certain how financial markets and London’s role in global finance will be affected,” Hellwig said.

An exit vote also signals the failure of European integration, which has been the bedrock of U.S. policy in Europe since World War II.

But U.S. politicians are also split on the vote. Presumptive Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump backs the Leave camp, while President Barack Obama and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton are urging the U.K. to remain in the EU. Obama traveled to the U.K. in April to deliver a joint press conference with David Cameron in favor of staying.

“In many dealings with Europe today, the U.S. works closely with the European Commission. This is the case regarding trade policy, attempts at environmental policy harmonization and policies to regulate privacy laws and data sharing,” Hellwig said. “With major partner country Britain no longer in the EU club, this will involve one more step in negotiating agreements.”


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