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On June 23, 2016 the United Kingdom held a country-wide popular referendum on whether or not they should stay a member of the European Union (EU). In a surprising result for many, the citizens of the UK voted to “exit” the EU- commonly referred to as “Brexit.” While the long-term economic effects of the departure are still yet to be seen (the pound is now at an all time low compared to the dollar in the wake of Brexit), the UK’s exit from the EU is historical at the very least.

Brexit – What happened?

The public voted 52 percent to leave the EU and 48 percent to stay. Voter turnout was a high 72 percent overall.

The EU, formed in the post- World War II era to foster common trade and movement of people throughout Europe, currently has 28 members. Members of the EU have access to the common market and trade with one another virtually tariff free. All trade deals with non-EU countries are negotiated between the EU and respective countries. Members of the EU also enjoy more or less open and free borders between countries, and maintain common policies not only in trade but also in agriculture, regional development and fisheries. Most members are part of the common currency, called the “Euro”; however, the UK opted out of being a part of that when it was established in 1999.


The vote result was a surprise for many, and represented a stark divide among the kingdom. While England and Wales voted to leave, Scotland, Northern Ireland and London voted to stay.

Many of those who wanted to leave the EU – “the Leavers” – sited a myriad of concerns, including the UK giving up a large amount of autonomy over the years, the large arrears and taxes the country had to pay to the EU, as well as an increase in immigration from poorer EU nations. Those who wanted to stay in the EU sited the economic benefits of being part of a larger trading and economic block which they believe outweighed other issues.

The referendum itself is legally non-binding, but politicians in the country see the vote as the democratic will of the people. In fact, David Cameron, a proponent of not leaving the EU, resigned as prime minister as a result of the vote and the new prime minister, Theresa May, initially on the same side of Cameron to stay in the EU, now says that the vote represents what should be done and has declared “Brexit means Brexit.”

So what happens next?

Currently, the UK is still in the EU. The nation needs to invoke what is called “Article 50,” the official declaration that they plan to leave the EU. From that time, a 2-year clock begins to tick for the UK and Europe to negotiate exit with the EU. Prime Minister May has already said she will not invoke Article 50 this year so the country can spend time determining how to depart the EU effectively.

Will there be another referendum to overturn the decision?

After the referendum to leave the EU, there were immediate calls for another referendum since many popular opinion polls stated voters did not know what they were voting for or regretted their decision. However, experts state another referendum is highly unlikely. It is possible that when the next General Election takes place, this could become a major campaign issue. However, the current government is moving ahead with plans for departure, even appointing a “Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union.”

Is there a movement for other countries to leave the EU?

Right after the vote many stated that this would start a domino effect of other countries wanting to leave the EU. Recent polling, however, has shown that a mass exodus of other EU nations is highly unlikely in the imminent future.

What does this mean for the United States?

As mentioned above the long-term economic effects of Brexit are yet to be known. President Obama, however, in a trip to Great Britain before the vote, called for voters to stay in the EU and, if they voted to leave, the UK would have to go to the “back of the line” for any new trade deal. Given the recent concerns Americans have with any new trade deals in general, this could prove problematic. Similarly, Brexit complicates the pending Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), a large-scale trade deal between the EU and US.

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