What you might need to know

This class focuses on Brexit.

Brexit came about because the Prime Minister, David Cameron, 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. Cameron himself campaigned for Remain. He hoped that a strong victory of Remain would keep the anti-EU people in his party quiet. A referendum was organised in 2016. 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, or an ever closer Union. The UK liked the idea of an economic union limited to free trading in a big Single Market.

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 which applies across the Single Market.

A lot of lies were told during the campaign, on both sides. 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 spent over 3 years between June 2016 and end of 2019 negotiating with the EU the conditions of its withdrawal. One of the main issues in this withdrawal agreement was the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Indeed the only land border between the UK and the EU is now on the island of Ireland. To avoid a hard border, which would have breached the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, it was decided that Northern Ireland would stay in the Single Market and the border between the UK and the EU would be in the Irish Sea. This was included in what is called the Northern Ireland Protocol. So checks have got to be applied to any goods, services and people coming from Great Britain to the island of Ireland.

Brexit is a surgical innovation of disentanglement which has proved to be near impossible. After many twists and turns, a Brexit deal was reached. An EU-UK Trade and Cooperation Agreement was signed. It is the first trade agreement the EU has ever signed which allows zero tariffs and zero quota on the goods the UK wants to sell on the Single Market. However not much is included in the agreement on trade of services. No more mutual recognition of professional qualifications! Each branch of business – banking, IT, etc – will have to negotiate an agreement, revisited annually.

The Brexit Deal means a lot more checks, red tape, therefore costs and delays. Brexit was always a lose/lose scenario – For many members of the EU, it was good to have the UK as part of the trio of large member states rather than a tandem France and Germany.

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!

Good links to help:

In general: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-32810887

For businesses – https://www.ey.com/en_uk/news/2020/12/what-does-the-brexit-deal-actually-mean-for-business-in-reality