This topic guide will help you work with the topic of Brexit. The guide is mainly intended for use in English class, but it may also be relevant for other school subjects such as History or Social Studies. Reading this guide will also give you a better overview of the current European crisis and its development.
The guide is designed to give you a good overview of the ongoing Brexit process, as well as some historical background on the issue. You can also find specific suggestions for texts to use as reference points, as well as ideas for further thematic perspectives.
This topic guide was last updated on January 21, 2019.
The UK has been a member of the EU community since 1973. Its membership has not been without its conflicts, however, but over time the nation has negotiated a number of special agreements. Among other things, they do not use the common European currency.
During the 1990s there was rising scepticism towards the EU in Britain, especially following the Maastrict Treaty of 1992, which gave the Union more power. One sympton of this rising scepticism was the founding of the EU-sceptical right-wing political party UKIP in 1993.
In connection with the general election in the UK in 2015, the sitting Prime Minister David Cameron promised to call a referendum on the UK's membership of the EU if he was reelected. The election resulted in a decisive Conservative victory, and the Party was now able to organise a referendum on EU membership. The issue became known as "Brexit" (a combination of "Britain" and "exit").
UK politicians were split into two factions on the issue. The Remain campaign wanted the UK to continue its membership of the EU, while the Leave campaign wished to leave the Union. David Cameron was a supporter of Remain, but the rest of the Conservative Party was very split on the issue and also included some eager Leave supporters. UKIP was a strong supporter of the Leave campaign and had a huge influence on the debates leading up to the referendum.
The debate on the issue was often aggressive, as both sides tried to present an image of the negative consequences that would result if the opposing faction won. The Leave campaign tended to focus on questions of economy, immigration and the importance of self-government, while the Remain campaign focused on the advantages that the UK enjoyed as part of the EU.
Even though political analysts had predicted that referendum would result in a Remain decision, the result surprisingly turned out to be a narrow majority for Leave. David Cameron viewed this outcome as a personal defeat and immediately resigned as both Prime Minister and leader of the Conservative Party. Theresa May took his place shortly afterwards.
Following the referendum, Theresa May chose to invoke the so-called "Article 50" in March of 2017, which meant that the UK would leave the EU after two years - March 2019. Within this time frame a new deal for UK-EU cooperation would have to be negotiated.
However, it has proven extremely difficult for Theresa May to secure a Brexit deal. In 2018, after many negotiations with the EU she managed to create a draft agreement, which then had to be accepted by the British Parliament. The proposed deal was extremely unpopular, so May chose to postpone the vote until January 15, 2019, in the hopes of gathering more support and possibly getting a better deal through further EU negotiations. The project was a failure, however - May's deal was voted down by an overwhelming majority, and it is now up to the government to negotiate a new deal that Parliament might be willing to accept - but they have very little time in which to do so.