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The Brexit debate, from an American's perspective


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Full disclosure before you read any further here: I’m not qualified to talk about Brexit. What initially sounded like a breakfast cereal to me has now swept me up in a frenzy leading to the 23 June vote — I hear about it everywhere. Despite my observing protesters for (or against) it, reading news articles about it, and watching interviews on it, I don’t fully understand the ins and outs of the debate. How could I, as a foreigner?

That said, I think it’s important to immerse oneself in another culture while abroad, so it seems only responsible to try my best to keep up with the Brexit debate. I initially didn’t really understand all the implications staying or leaving the EU has. I mean, the UK is still the UK, regardless of whether or not it’s in the EU, right?

But, of course, it’s so much more complicated than that. Leaving the EU would mean giving up a 40-year legacy, a bond between the UK and other European nations. It would mean no longer listening to the Anthem of Europe (do people actually listen to the Anthem of Europe?), no longer taking the short line at airport immigration checks and no longer enjoying the single-market system allowing free movement of goods and services that EU members are under today.

On the flip side, leaving the EU could mean improving political and fiscal autonomy for the UK, moving away from a union that is admittedly not without its flaws and having a more independent say in large-scale and hot-button issues like immigration.

As is with many political issues, it’s hard to know where the truth lies when looking at Brexit issue-by-issue. For example, Brexit supporters argue that remaining in the EU could lead to unmanageable spikes in immigration — records were nearly set in 2015 — while those supporting remaining in the EU point out that fewer Britons left the country in that timespan, leading to misleading data. Others have taken the debate a step further and asserted that EU membership hasn’t even had a major impact on immigration in recent years.

My biggest takeaway when trying to get a grip on the Brexit debate (and trying to form my own opinion on it all) was the utter uncertainty of it all. While Greenland left the European Economic Community in 1985 and Algeria pulled out upon becoming free from French rule in 1962, no country has left the EU in its modern form.

In 1975, the UK did hold a referendum in deciding whether or not it would remain in the European Communities, an organisation that became the first pillar of the EU. All but two counties in the UK voted to remain. Times and politics have certainly changed in the past 40 years, but who knows? Maybe this is foreshadowing for the upcoming referendum.

When all was said and done and it was decided that the UK would stick it out, eventually going on to be part of history in the 1993 formation of the EU as we know it today, eventually building and maintaining its reputation as a powerhouse continentally and globally, eventually building a strong economy and culture — Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Roy Jenkins said on the matter: “It commits Britain to Europe; it commits us to playing an active, constructive and enthusiastic role in it”.

I don’t know what the final say in the 23rd June vote will be, but I find the UK’s legacy in the EU too strong and too deep to throw away quite yet. No, the EU is not perfect, but I think internal changes — not a withdrawal — will help the UK find progress. The British people made a commitment, after all.

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