What Is The Brexit? Here Are 8 Key Things You Need To Know About The Vote
The European Union, officially founded in 1993, is comprised of roughly 28 countries today, but following a vote on the contentious “Brexit” taking place Thursday in Britain, that number could drop down to 27. What is the Brexit, you ask? As its first two letters and the word “exit” imply, it’s the historic vote on whether or not Britain should stay in the European Union.
Predominantly conservative backers of the movement to leave the EU argue this will protect the U.K.’s independence, and that EU regulations have become too burdensome, while those who oppose the movement, like Prime Minister David Cameron, fear that leaving the EU could have detrimental effects on Britain’s economy, national security, and world standing. Polling shows both sides of the debate in a dead heat, and it all comes down to the Thursday vote.
Voting opened to U.K. voters at 7 a.m. local time, with polling stations set to close at 10 p.m., and all votes to be counted by 7 a.m. on Friday. The results of the vote could have a huge impact, not just within the U.K., but around the world, so it’s in your best interest to at least learn the basics about it. Here’s what you need to know.
1. Who is voting?
This is a referendum, which means anyone of voting age can cast a simple “yes” or “no” vote. British and Commonwealth (Ireland, Malta, Cyprus) citizens 18 or over can vote if they are U.K. residents, and additionally, U.K. nationals living abroad who have been on the electoral register in the U.K. over the past 15 years can vote, too. The House of Lords and Commonwealth citizens in Gibraltar are also eligible.
Citizens from the EU at large will not get to vote.
2. Brexit support has a lot to do with the refugee crisis.
EU law currently requires its member states to admit an unlimited number of refugees from other EU countries, and a substantial amount of refugees are traveling from poorer European countries to Britain seeking work. In the wake of terror attacks by extremists this past year, Britons favoring the Brexit fear the EU’s free migration rules make it easier for potential terrorists to enter. Of course, it’s worth noting this paranoia overlooks the intensive vetting process refugees go through before they can resettle anywhere.
3. It also has a lot to do with sovereignty and Parliament.
In an interview with Vox, British journalist Douglas Murray explained the push for Britain’s exit in terms of a desire for independence. “The issue of sovereignty — of who governs you — is the most important question for any country,” Murray explained.
Power in the EU has been concentrated in Brussels for roughly 20 years, and supporters of the Brexit want power to return fully to elected Parliamentary officials. Between 15 and 50 percent of U.K. legislation currently comes from the EU.
4. Brexit supporters think leaving the EU will expand its economic power.
Boris Johnson, a journalist and British Member of Parliament since 2015, has argued that Britain is a leader in “so many sectors of the 21st-century economy; not just financial services, but business services, the media, biosciences, universities, the arts, technology of all kinds.” He wrote in The Telegraph: “[T]o spearhead the success of those products and services not just in Europe, but in growth markets beyond.” Johnson said Britain must “be brave … reach out – not to hug the skirts of Nurse in Brussels, and refer all decisions to someone else.”
Additionally, Brexit supporters point out that it is currently contributing billions of pounds annually to the European Union budget.
5. Brexit opposition also has to do with the British economy.
Opponents of the Brexit claim that the process of leaving the EU would lead to short-term but substantial economic crisis, including the devaluation of the British pound and a stock market crash, and could even threaten London’s current place as Europe’s economic capital. The flow of goods from the U.K. around Europe could also be threatened by the Brexit, according to Vox. The Treasury predicts that the Brexit would cost households £4,300 a year for decades.
6. It could affect the global economy in a huge way.
According to analysis of the CBOE S&P 500 Volatility Index, which measures investor fears, preemptive anxiety about the Brexit already has U.S. stocks down 2 percent and foreign stocks down 7 percent. Additionally, economists predict the Brexit would lead to a rise in the value of the U.S. dollar, which sounds great, but could actually strain U.S. exports.
7. According to the betting market, there’s a 75 percent chance Britain will stay.
Markets are currently estimating only a 25 percent chance that Britain will actually leave the EU. Polling prior to voting day showed about 13 percent of Britons were still undecided, so analysts are predicting most of those who are undecided will vote in favor of staying.
8. Even if Britain stays, one powerful question could remain.
As Rana Foroohar of Time points out, the whole Brexit question essentially brings attention to the issue of whether or not, “you could have a solid, sustainable union based on a single currency, without true economic and political integration,” or in other words, whether or not a model like the United States of America could actually work in Europe without “a true, deep, federal union.”
Even if Britain stays, the fact that it came so close to leaving over a question of political identity and independence is certainly notable.