UMBC across the sea: thoughts on Brexit

The views expressed in this article are the views of the author.

When I first moved to the UK, I knew Brexit was going to be on my mind. It’s a very complicated issue, and what makes it even more complicated (so much so that “simple Brexit explanations” comes up as one of the first online search suggestions), is the fact that in order to understand really what’s going on, you have to understand the British and EU parliamentary systems.

In high school, I found myself questioning why the World History curriculum being taught only grazed the surface of historical events. My classes focused on when colonization began and ran until about World War II. There was a massive Western-centric focus, and even then, the gaps in the coverage of history and government were huge.

Since studying abroad, I realized that the UK parliamentary system is incredibly complex. The democratic process looks very different here. There are two houses, The House of Commons (elected officials, usually party-affiliated) and The House of Lords (appointed officials, not usually party-affiliated). Within these dramatic, gothic buildings are the Members of Parliament (MPs), who argue and discuss the Brexit comings and goings. These are broadcast and make for good watching — there are shouting matches and cheers — it is very lively. In fact, the Commons has a central carpet with lines down it. The distance between the lines is two swords’ length, and MPs are still not allowed not to step over “the line.”

While you can read a million “Guides to Brexit,” there’s a very American belief of “Why should I?” and the answer is because these kinds of huge political shifts affect us all. The United Kingdom joined the “European Economic Area” in 1973. This later developed into the European Union (EU) in 1992, and in 1993, Britain was allowed to join. The consequences of a no-deal Brexit could be dire for Britain’s economy, which is also tied closely to the American economy.

Leaving the EU would clearly cause enormous challenges for the UK. Trade, immigration, even food production and availability will all be affected by this change. The UK needs to figure out how to negotiate a way or a “deal” that would make the change as smooth as possible. The other option, of course, is the “no-deal” Brexit. That means the UK would leave the EU with no agreement, and everything would change overnight. Most lawmakers consider this the “worst-case scenario.”

Beyond the economic distress, the consequences of the Brexit decision will also affect human rights. The EU allows people and things to move around freely, like people in the US. EU citizens who previously could travel, work and study in the UK along with UK citizens in the other EU countries would all be affected. Some citizens of EU countries have made preemptive moves to leave the UK, due to the current uncertainty in Brexit.

The immigration challenges are something familiar to us all in the United States, and also specifically at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. As a campus that values diversity as a welcome and rich addition to our community, we should, and do understand the contributions that immigrants make. The impending refugee crisis will surely be front and center if and when the UK leaves the EU. Brexit is not just about money and trade deals.

It’s also about people.

For students, keeping up with the onslaught of news and overwhelmingness of global events can be really scary and can inundate you until you never want to read another article again. But making a concerted effort to keep up with global politics is crucial to our growing and changing world in which we all live. World History in high school didn’t cut it for me, and I’m sure it didn’t cut it for you either. And not everyone can study abroad elsewhere either. I will be leaving soon after the election, but hope that the UK finds a smooth resolution.

There are digestible bits of news that are aimed at objectivity and accessibility about issues like Brexit and Hong Kong’s protests and climate change. You just have to seek it out.