Shea: Brexit provides mirror for America

General Opinion Graphic

Delaney Shea, Columnist

Belligerent nationalism begets global exclusion.

Much to the amusement of Europeans, many Americans do not know that Wales, in Great Britain, is a country in its own right. Somewhat less amusingly, many Americans do not grasp the concept of Brexit or its implications. Brexit, a portmanteau combination of the words “Britain” and “exit,” signifies Britain’s movement to exit the European Union. 

This is an opportunity for clarity. Britain is making a mistake, letting misplaced pride bloom into embittered self-sabotage. We are not faring much better.

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Brexit has both negative social and economic implications, although exact economic outcomes cannot be predicted for certain. The EU provides a multitude of benefits for members, including but not limited to trade agreements like agricultural subsidies and easier travel and work across country borders. 

In 2017, British voters voted to leave, 51.89 percent to 48.11 percent, and Britain will officially leave in 2019, following two years of negotiations. 

Ethan Harris, a second-year student studying Japanese at University of Leeds in Leeds, England, often hears his English classmates fervently discussing Brexit, as the topic makes people, in his words, “pretty peeved.” In his understanding, voters in favor of Brexit see it as a reclaiming of sovereignty from the supranational European Union, especially around immigration laws, and those opposed see a backlash to immigration.

“It’s kind of the elephant in the room in Britian,” Harris said via email. “‘Did you vote remain?’ or ‘What do you think about the Brexit?’ carry the same feeling as ‘Did you vote Trump?’ or ‘What do you think about x thing Trump did.’ Among young people, both carry generally negative feelings, and both the US and UK have a large portion of young people voting liberal (Democrat/Labour). Both places have anti-immigration undertones, and young people find these undertones to be a racist outlash from older people. The difference, I think, is that Brexit was a one-time thing, with huge repercussions, but it doesn’t continually represent the people of the UK like Trump does for America.” 

Both Britain and America grossly overestimate the number of immigrants residing in their respective countries, although they are not the only countries to do so.

Dr. Alison Johnston, associate professor of political science, says that the main stimuli for the Brexit movement were immigration and overreach controversies, though she points out that some British complaints about being controlled were exaggerated.

“Membership in the EU involves much closer economic and political integration than a trade agreement – and the UK has benefited a lot from arrangements that go beyond trade…” Johnston said via email. “All of these privileges are going to be removed if the UK walks away, and they will take a pretty big toll on

the UK’s economy.”

Consider this the Ghost of Toxic Nationalism Yet to Come.

Positive feelings toward the EU increased over the past couple of years in nearly all of the remaining EU member states, according to the Pew Research Center. Britain is now out of the group chat, leaving behind a group now bonding more strongly without it. 

America is on a four-year course to have the world band together against us as well. As Harris said, our government is continually representing us, and international opinion is disgusted. Our leaders should not be in petty feuds with other countries or burning bridges—especially in the Middle East.

If America wants to stay a respected global power involved in important affairs, cooperation and compromise remain key. “America first” works only to an extent, and that extent is the perimeter of the White House.