Discussing “Brexit”: Students learn more about impact of UK’s decision

Dr. Andrew Blick examines Britain’s controversial decision to leave the European Union

Alexandra Cline

David Beckham wanted to stay. The majority of Great Britain didn’t.

At Washington and Lee on Nov. 10, Dr. Andrew Blick of King’s College London spoke about the implications of Britain’s departure from the European Union – known as Brexit around the world.

Earlier this year, the United Kingdom held a referendum or public election to determine if the island nation should leave or remain in the EU. The “leave” campaign won by a slim percentage of the vote.

However, Blick said the vote to leave the economic and political union was much more than a binary choice of staying or departing, even if described that way at the June 23 referendum.

“The referendum was presented it as a straightforward choice, but there’s lot more in it than a choice between yes or no,” he said.

With a split vote, the Brexit decision drew a divisiveness in Britain among its member countries, demographic groups and even political parties.

Blick said some of these voting decisions were based on longings for the past, with many in the “leave” campaign feeling as though Britain’s world power has been lost over time.

“The vote suggests that some haven’t fully overcome attitudes of imperial nostalgia,” he said. “They believe being in the EU prevented them from realizing their true power.”

Though Blick disagreed with the viewpoint, he recognized it as an “attitude that does exist” – one that must be taken seriously considering the outcome of the vote.

Looking to the future, he identified several ways Brexit would influence policy, law and government both in the United Kingdom and abroad. Among the issues, he considered border control and migration to be two of the most important topics for discussion.

“Some in the ‘leave’ group want more control over borders, but with that they might have to sacrifice in other areas,” Blick said.

For Blick, these sacrifices likely include leaving the single market within the EU if Britain tightens its borders and restricts entry of EU citizens.

Britain will also face other challenges stemming from the decision – among them the process of evaluating representative democracy and its effectiveness.

“Brexit suggests a shift toward direct instead of representative democracy,” Blick said. “It calls into question whether referendums and representative democracy are the best ways of making a decision.”

According the Blick, the vote also coincides with other movements and elections around the world, with populism and a desire for change serving as driving forces. He pointed to the United States presidential election as the most recent example.

With established ways of governing and popularity of traditional elites in decline, both Brexit and the U.S. election suggest that certain blocs of the population feel marginalized by the system.

“For disenfranchised groups at the bottom of society for whom the system doesn’t work, these candidates or issues will be their way of change,” Blick said.