Brexit?

If you’ve been on planet Earth for the last week or so, you are no doubt aware that Brexit happened. I thought I’d take this opportunity to provide a brief tutorial on what this is all about and what it means for travelers.

Huh?
So what in the world is this all about. The story actually began decades ago when France and Germany signed a trade agreement concerning steel tariffs. Essentially there would be “free” trade between the two in this industry. Over time, the number of other goods being freely traded began to grow, and more countries around western Europe began to join. The idea behind all of this is that strong economic ties between nations would lessen the likelihood of war ever popping up on the continent again, especially between France and Germany whose previous squabbles plunged the world into World War I and World War II. Perhaps you’ve herd of those.  It has by all measures been successful, and resulted in the longest period of peace the European continent has ever experienced.

This trend continued and things became increasingly more formalized. By the early 1970s the groundwork for what would become known as the European Common Market had been laid. The United Kingdom was one of the earliest members of this, eager to profit off of the economic possibilities of greater trade with the continent. For the people of the UK this meant access to goods that had been fairly rare before, such as wines and cheeses which became incredibly popular as a result.

As the 1970s and 1980s progressed other international bodies were established, such as the International Court of Justice (a sort of Supreme Court for conflicts between states and a court of appeals). An international legislature was also established to govern over the growing body. In short, it isn’t too dissimilar from the United States and it’s form of federalism. Each state was giving up some of its autonomy and in return, benefiting from the financial gains. Many today refer to this set up as “The United States of Europe.”

By the 1990s though, England was proving to somewhat difficult to deal with. When the so called “Euro Zone” was created England refused to buy in. Essentially, most of the member nations gave up their currency in return for one international currency, the Euro. England preferred to hold on to its Pound. Nonetheless, the European Union (as it was now called) continued on.

In 1996, the Schengan Agreement was signed into law, and Europe underwent a radical change. For the first time, people could move freely between the nation states. They didn’t have to stop and have their passports stamped, and they could reside in any other nation. At first all went well. England in particular enjoyed this aspect of the agreement, and nearly two million UK citizens relocated to other parts of Europe. In particular, a large number of retirees, wanting a warmer climate and cheaper living expenses, moved to Spain.

As the Euro Zone expanded into Eastern Europe after the collapse of communism, people were looking to escape forty five years of oppression and seeking greater economic opportunity. Many began to immigrate west, and a large number found themselves in the UK, especially in the larger cities. Today it is very common to find people working in the service industry from Poland, Romania, and from several other Eastern European nations.

So What Happened?

For the last several years, there has been a growing amount of anxiety from certain portions of the UK populations about these changes. Particularly the older generations have proven uncomfortable with the nearly 1.8 million immigrants that have come into the UK. Additionally, several small business owners have grown resentful about having to remain in line with quality and production rules for goods that were set by the EU government based out of Brussels.

Several second tier politicians seized on these feeling and began to support the movement as a means to push forward their own careers.

Who are the Players?

E7dALt_-_400x400Prime Minister David Cameron took the unprecedented step to call for a referendum to allow the public to vote on the issue and put an end to it once and for all. This was something that had never been done in the history of England or the UK before. He fully expected the results of the vote to be to stay in the European Union. He spent the months leading up to the vote campaigning to “stay” and attempting to explain to the public that this was the best course of action in his opinion.

220px-Boris_Johnson_-opening_bell_at_NASDAQ-14Sept2009-3c_croppedBoris Johnson is the former mayor of London, former classmate of David Cameron, and his long time rival. As mayor, he developed a bit of reputation for attention grabbing stunts and unkempt hair.  The public enjoyed his spectacle, but never took him too seriously as a leader. As one of the leaders of the “exit” vote (or British Exit/”Brexit” vote) he suddenly became a powerful figure in the conservative party. Many argued he jumped on to this platform as a means to greatly increase his public standing and improve the likelihood of his being the next Prime Minister. However, now it seems as though that won’t be happening.

10-Gove-GettyMichael Gove is the Justice Secretary who led the “leave” camp with Boris Johnson. He has been accused of being anti-immigrant and believes that the UK would be “freer, fairer, and better off” for leaving. His critics that much of what he says is a hidden form of racism.  He, along with another politician, Nigel Farage, took to claiming that the money that was being spent on the EU government in Brussels would be sent back into helping the UK’s National Health Service (NHS),  nationalized healthcare, to the amount of £350 million a day. Six days after the vote, Gove announced his intention to seek the Prime Minister’s position, shocking everyone who suspected Boris Johonson would do so.  Many saw this as a supreme power play to push Johnson aside, and many feel as though they were all taken advantage of simply to allow Gove to become the nation’s leader. Critics argue he was willing to hurt the nation simply to make a power grab for himself.

What’s the Fallout?

The morning after the vote, when it became clear that the UK would leave the EU, most of the world and England was in shock. David Cameron announced he would step down as Prime Minister because this was a direction for the country he had not supported and had no desire to steer the nation in to uncharted waters. Instead he determined that he would allow his successors to determine the course of action to take next. No one was entirely sure what that would mean. France, Germany, and Italy held an emergency meeting, and Cameron announced that he would not file the appropriate paperwork needed for the UK to leave until some plan was in place. The value of the Pound has collapsed to a thirty year low, as investors wait to see what will happen next.

The public then turned to Johnson and Gove, who provided no answers. It seemed as though they did not anticipate the outcome of the vote to be in their favor and are now at a loss as to what to do next. Nigel Farage went on television and announced that the often quoted figures concerning the NHS were in fact not true, calling them a “misstatement.” Johnson published an editorial in which he said that the UK was part of Europe and always would be and looked forward to a warm relationship with the rest of the continent, confusing and infuriating his supporters.  Michael Gove announced that he believed he should be elected Prime Minister and offered his name into the running, but could provide no evidence as to what grounds supported this other than his leading the charge to leave.  He has since called for a halt in immigration, stirring even more debate.

It became clear that the “Exit” camp had no real plan of action. The public quickly became outraged, and many who voted in favor of leaving began to regret their vote. There have been calls for second referendum, or for Parliament to overrule the previous vote, or maybe even to simply never submit the appropriate paperwork for formally leaving the EU. The immigrants living in the UK are at a loss as to what to do next as well. Their supporters argue that if they should decide to leave or are forced into leaving, the UK’s economy will collapse. Similarly those UK citizens living abroad, especially the retirees are in a quandary because many cannot afford to move back to the UK. There’s also been a significant jump in the number of hate crimes against immigrants across the nation. Additionally, Scotland and Northern Ireland are discussing referendums of their own, to determine if they should leave the UK altogether to keep their trade agreements with EU in place. Doing so would essentially destroy the UK.  Many people have openly begun to discuss that they voted for leaving the EU but now regret doing so, and many have admitted that were ignorant as to what the EU actually was or how it would impact their society.  On the night of referendum, the top Google searched from the UK were “What does leaving the EU mean?” and “What is the EU?”  There were strong division among the public on this issue with older people, and those who were less educated, and less well off financially tending to vote “leave” and the younger, more educated, more affluent voting to stay.  The whole process has seemingly pulled the citizenry apart, and caused massive ill will.

In short, everything is a mess and the entirety of the western world is in a holding pattern until it all gets sorted out.

What does this mean for travel?

Essentially it depends on where you are going. If you are going to the UK from the Euro Zone or from the United States, you are going to get a seriously good deal. The Pound has fallen to roughly $1.35, it’s lowest point since the mid 1980s. If you are headed to the UK, everything is going to be much cheaper than it was two weeks ago. Although, the Euro has slipped somewhat on the days since the vote,  you notice much change.

In terms of passports and drivers licenses, people from the UK are essentially going to have to get new ones.  They no longer will have easy access the other countries and will have to wait in line just like everyone else.  However, if you aren’t from the UK or from an EU nation, you probably won’t see much change.  You’ll still have to get your passport stamped regardless of where you enter or exit.

 

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Categories: Europe, Thoughts

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