What you might need to know

This class focuses on Brexit. Brexit is exciting because it is ongoing but there are also historical factors to discuss with the children and maybe a few stories to debunk!

Brexit came about because the Prime Minister who was re-elected in 2015 promised the British people a referendum on whether the UK should stay in the EU or leave the EU. More than answering the people’s request, it was a political calculation on the part of the Prime Minister to please the increasingly vocal people in his party who wanted out of the EU. A referendum was organised. This is a good opportunity to remind the children that an election is a vote for a person (or a political party) and a referendum is a vote on a question.

The Brexit referendum was about whether to stay or leave the EU. On 23 June 2016, 52% of the people living in the UK voted to leave. However there were huge disparities across the UK. A majority in Scotland and NI voted to stay; it was the same in London for example. But a majority in England and Wales voted to leave. Overall, a majority of people across the UK voted to leave the EU. This is why it is important to get the children to understand the difference between England and the UK. The UK is a four piece puzzle country with England, Wales, Scotland and NI. It is the UK leaving even if not all the pieces voted to go.

There are many reasons why the UK wanted to leave. It is incorrect to say that the UK never wanted to be part of the EU but they certainly didn’t want a political union. One reason given during the campaign was summarised in the slogan: ‘Take back control!’ The UK didn’t want to implement rules and regulations that it hadn’t voted for at a national level. It didn’t want the shared sovereignty which is at the heart of the EU whereby you pool in common decisions about certain issues. They wanted to decide for themselves who could come into their country. They didn’t want the freedom of movement of people and goods which applies across the Single Market.

A lot of lies were told during the campaign. In particular a double decker bus stated that if the UK left the EU, they could use the £350 million sent to the EU every week to fund the NHS. The day after the referendum, one of the leaders of the campaign, Nigel Farage, was invited on TV and admitted it was a lie.

Ultimately, the UK has spent 3 years between June 2016 and March 2019, when it has to officially be out of the UK, negotiating with the EU the conditions of its withdrawal. The only land border between the UK and the EU will now be on the island of Ireland. This means that we would need a hard border between the UK and the EU to check what products the UK sends into the EU. For example, it is forbidden to sell in the EU any beef injected with steroids but if we don’t have a border between Ireland and NI, who can tell about how compliant the UK products are with EU rules. At the same time, a hard border violates the Good Friday Agreement which has guaranteed peace on the island since 1998.

The mechanism the EU and the UK have agreed is the backstop which gives an insurance that there will be no hard border between NI and the UK. However it also means that the UK wouldn’t really leave the EU until it negotiates a new trade deal with the EU.

Brexit is a surgical innovation of disentanglement which has proved to be near impossible. Particularly because the British government agreed to the backstop but not the British Parliament. The UK is deeply, deeply divided. To add a little twist to this story, we could see another independence referendum very soon in Scotland which would lead to Scotland’s independence and its application to become a member of the EU. A little bit of fiction politics but some children have asked!