Key events[edit | edit source]
The key events in this were:
- In June 2016, an advisory national referendum was held in the UK on EU membership. This was narrowly won by the Leave Campaign, 52%–48%.
- At the end of January 2020 Britain left the EU.
- At the start of 2021, Britain left the EU customs union.
Background[edit | edit source]
During this period, the Conservative Party was split between two broad factions; socially liberal pro-business conservatives, and socially conservative anti-Europeans. The liberal faction generally recognised the economic value of EU membership, while remaining sceptical of further European integration. The Tory Party’s grassroots membership tend to be more conservative than its voters. Cameron was from the liberal faction, but was seen as a weak leader.
2010–2015[edit | edit source]
The 2010 general election resulted in a hung parliament with no single party having an overall majority. This is unusual in British politics, which typically produces majorities for either of the main two parties. Consequently, from 2010-2015 the Conservative Party formed a Coalition Government with the Liberal Democrats.
As part of the coalition deal, a binding national referendum was held in 2011 on the introduction of the alternative vote system, which the Lib-Dems desired to reduce the need for tactical voting by left-leaning voters. The Yes Campaign was backed by most Lib-Dems, while the No Campaign was backed by most in the Conservative Party. Labour were split on the issue, but most labour politicians did not wish to spend political capital on disagreeing with their party allies. In a foreshadowing of what was to come later, the campaign was marked by significant misinformation from the No(-to-AV) Campaign, and significant incompetence by the Yes(-to-AV) campaign. Ultimately the No Campaign won 67.9%–32.1%.
In January 2013 Cameron promised to hold a referendum on EU membership should the Conservatives win the 2015 General Election. The prescient reaction of the Labour leader Ed Milliband was to comment that this “going to put Britain through years of uncertainty, and take a huge gamble with [the British] economy.”
In 2014, an independence referendum was held in Scotland. The No(-to-independence) Campaign, which opposed independence, made arguments that leaving the UK meant leaving the EU, since other European countries with their own issues with separatism, particularly Spain and France, would have opposed Scotland’s joining the EU after independence to avoid encouraging their own regional separatists. Russia, judging the destabilisation of a major NATO member to be in its own national interest, backed the Yes(-to-independence) Campaign by spreading disinformation. The referendum was extremely bitter and divisive, with No(-to-independence) ultimately winning 55.3%–44.7%.
The 2015 general election[edit | edit source]
In 2015 the Conservatives won a small 12-seat majority in a general election, with the Lib-Dem vote collapsing. During the campaign, foreshadowing what was to happen later, the Conservative Party systematically broke electoral law in relation to finances but suffered few consequences. Labour leader Ed Milliband resigned, and was replaced by Jeremy Corbyn, a far-left backbencher with no previous cabinet or shadow cabinet experience, a track record of serial rebellions against the Labour Party whip that he would now demand other MPs to follow, and who therefore did not command the confidence of a majority of Labour MPs.
2016 advisory referendum[edit | edit source]
The Remain campaign was completely inept, with their concerns dismissed as “Project Fear.”
During the campaign, the Leave Campaign made a number of contradictory promises. The Leave Campaign promised that the UK would remain a member of the European Single Market, and would retain European freedom of movement. They also suggested that as the referendum was non-binding, a second, confirmatory referendum could be held on any final “deal" between the UK and the EU. There is strong evidence that the Leave Campaign systematically broke electoral law. Russia, judging the destabilisation of liberal democracies and the breakup of the EU to be in its own grand strategic interest, supported the Leave Campaign with finances and disinformation. UKIP barely disguised its racism with its “Breaking Point Poster" showing queuing Syrian refugees.Anti-German xenophobic tweets were made by the Leave.EU campaign group. One MP, Jo Cox, was murdered by a right-wing terrorist.
Voting in the referendum was restricted to British, Irish and Commonwealth citizens aged 18 or over. This denied votes to many belonging to two groups that would be particularly affected by Brexit; British citizens living in the rest of the EU and non-British EU citizens living in the UK. It also denied votes to those under the age of 18, including those aged 16-17.
The advisory referendum was narrowly won by the Leave Campaign by a slim margin, 52%–48%. The Leave Campaign described its victory in hyperbolic terms, with "the biggest vote in history" and that remainers were “sore losers” and “remoaners.” Analysis of the vote showed that it was driven by English nationalism and right-wing populism. Scotland and Northern Ireland both voted Remain, as did London and a few other districts in England. Young people tended to vote Remain while older people tended to vote Leave, however, older voters were more likely to turn out. Those with university degrees tended to vote remain.
May government[edit | edit source]
In the aftermath of the referendum, Cameron resigned. He was replaced by the Home Secretary, Theresa May, who had half-heartedly campaigned for Remain during the referendum campaign. May inherited Cameron’s small majority, and faction-riven party. Labour MPs attempted to remove Corbyn as leader, but failed.
May decided to call a general election in 2017 seemingly in the hope of obtaining a larger majority on the back of strong polling. If the Conservatives had won a larger majority, May could have ignored rebel factions within the party. However, the 2017 election resulted in the Conservatives losing their majority, albeit remaining the largest party in another hung parliament.
May completed withdrawal negotiations with the EU, from a position of extreme weakness, but she too resigned in failure after her deal was rejected, partially by right-wingers in her own party, and partly by pro-Europeans inside and outside her party.
Johnson government[edit | edit source]
May resigned as Conservative Party leader and was replaced by Boris Johnson, one time figurehead of the Leave Campaign. Johnson purged the Conservative party of its pro-European MPs by removing the party whip from them. In a blatant yet transparent attempt to avoid parliamentary scrutiny, on 10th September 2019 Johnson prorogued parliament until the State Opening in October, 17 days before the then expected Brexit day. This sparked a constitutional crisis, but was ruled unlawful by the UK Supreme Court, allowing parliament to reconvene on the 24th September.
In November 2020, Joe Biden won the 2020 US Presidential election standing for the Democratic Party. As an Irish American, Biden is sympathetic to the Republic of Ireland’s position on Brexit and supportive of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. Additionally, his party and administration are extremely anti-populist, as their main opponents are the populist Republican Party under former Donald Trump. The Democrats have a better cognisance of the west’s strategic rivalry with Russia, and therefore hold an extremely dim view of the whole Brexit crisis.
Johnson called a General Election in December 2019 in which the whipless Conservative MPs were unable to stand as Conservatives. The Conservatives campaigned on a platform to “Get Brexit Done.” This election returned a large 80-seat Conservative majority, and the pro-European faction defeated. Johnson was able therefore to “get Brexit done” through a last-minute deal, which was implemented in January 2021. This resulted in the UK leaving the European Single Market.
Johnson resigned as Prime Minister in July 2022, after, amongst other things, the “Partygate scandal” (holding regular parties in Downing Street during lockdowns due to the Covid-19 pandemic and then lying about those parties to parliament).
Effects[edit | edit source]
Political effects[edit | edit source]
The period 2016-2021 was marked by significant political instability in the UK. However, since the 2019 General Election, the situation has stabilised, with the Conservatives now having an 80 seat majority, with the populist faction in a position of strength.
The Leave Campaign’s prediction that the EU would collapse did not occur. In the EU, support for EU membership has increased amongst its members, and far-right populist anti-EU parties in EU countries have mostly dropped leaving the EU from their own agendas.
Economic effects[edit | edit source]
Financial markets have responded by lowering value of the Pound Sterling. A lower value of the pound negatively affects those living outside Britain on British incomes, such as investments or pensions, including those who may teach English part-time for secondary income. On the other hand, it has increased the relative pay of those not paid in Sterling. In the medium term however, the drop in the value of Sterling will likely result in increased inflation.
For English language teachers with British passports working in the rest of the EU, the security of their jobs and pensions may be at risk. Many British citizens living in the rest of the EU were denied a vote in the 2016 referendum, due to having lived outside the UK for too long, have been affected by the result.
The Vote Leave promises of extra funding for the NHS have not materialised.
Effects on the EFL industry[edit | edit source]
Brexit has had a largely negative effect on the EFL industry in two ways:
- It has become more difficult for English language learners to visit the UK due to increased red tape.
- It is now much more difficult for EFL teachers from the UK to find work in the rest of Europe. Conversely, this has created some opportunities for those with Irish passports.
Effects on MFL learning in the UK[edit | edit source]
It has also impacted EU citizens living in the UK, a substantial proportion of whom will be language teachers.
References[edit | edit source]