UNITED STATES, WASHINGTON (OBSERVATORY VIDEO) — On June 23rd, 2016, an entire country headed into the unknown when 17.4 million people in the United Kingdom voted to become the first country to leave the European Union. This is the story of Brexit.
On June 23rd, 2016, an entire country headed into the unknown. That’s the day 17.4 million people in the United Kingdom voted to become the first country to leave the European Union.
This is the story of Brexit.
We begin 60 years ago. After World Wars I and II had brought unprecedented death and destruction to the continent, a simple theory gained traction: if countries form stronger economic ties, they’ll be much less likely to fight each other.
So, in 1957, Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and West Germany signed the Treaty of Rome and formed the European Economic Community.
The UK wasn’t included. It tried to join in 1963 and ‘67, but was blocked by French President Charles de Gaulle. De Gaulle didn’t trust the British and their close allies, the United States, although de Gaulle’s official reason was that the UK’s economy wasn’t compatible with Europe’s.
A few years later, once de Gaulle was out of power, the UK became a member of the EEC in 1973.
But not everyone was sold on the idea. So, just two years after joining, the UK held its first ever national referendum to decide whether it should turn around and leave. The vote wasn’t close, 67% of the electorate chose to stay.
In the years since, the EEC has become known as the European Union, expanded to 28 member states, and enacted countless laws and reforms that have created a thriving political and economic zone with 500 million citizens.
In many ways it was designed to mirror the world’s most successful federal republic: the United States. Just like the American colonies had done two centuries earlier, the individual countries of Europe decided they’d be better off – economically, geopolitically – if they formed a unified group. It was a good decision.
For proof, look no further than the year-by-year, per-person GDP rate, which has skyrocketed across the entire euro-zone. Germany, the UK, and France, the EU’s biggest economies and the 4th, 5th, and 6th largest individual economies in the world, have seen their growth track right along with each other at roughly the rate of the United States. A look at the emerging economies of Brazil, China, and South Africa gives you a better sense of just how closely the Europeans have tracked together. Look at Turkey — who wants desperately to join the union — compared to Portugal, Italy, Greece, and Spain the four EU countries most affected by the global downturn at the end of the previous decade, and you see more evidence of the power of the EU in driving growth.
As it has became more and more integrated — as its members chose to give up more and more of their sovereignty — the UK kept negotiating ways to stay independent from key aspects of the union. It didn’t join the open border that the rest of the EU created in 1995 to create completely free movement within the union, and it chose to keep the British pound as its currency instead of adopting the Euro.
But the development that made the UK’s eventual exit most likely was the adoption of the Lisbon Treaty in 2009. Not only did it make the EU’s central institutions more efficient and more powerful, but — for the first time — it gave its members an official mechanism to leave, called Article 50.
At around the same time, the world was hit by a severe recession. Greece, whose public debt was far higher than most other EU members, was worse off. Its fellow union members forced it to implement severe spending cutbacks in exchange for money it needed to stabilize its economy.
This was followed by a migrant crisis, as millions of refugees fled war-torn countries across the Middle East and North Africa.
As immigration rates rose across Europe, the preferred destination was one of the big three economies: Germany, the UK, or France…
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