“A Very Messy Divorce”: How Brexit is Impacting British Bears

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Kayla Barbee

A graphic illustration of the confusion surrounding Brexit, portraying Britain‘s separation from the rest of Europe and the ensuing confusion. Graphics done by senior Kayla Barbee.

By Cherise Kim , Cambridge High School - GA

Flip to any news channel on television. Pick out any magazine or newspaper while in line at the grocery store. Scroll through your phone’s news app notifications.

Chances are, there is yet another update about Brexit.

Most Americans can simply change the channel, pick up another magazine or swipe the notification away without a second thought. However, this may not be so easily doable for those with citizenship or family ties to Britain.

“Brexit,” or “British exit,” refers to Britain’s June 2016 referendum in which the nation decided to permanently leave the European Union (EU).

Britain finally left the EU permanently on Friday, after a road to departure which was long and riddled with obstacles. While the initial break was scheduled to occur in March of 2019, the date was pushed back several times due to ongoing disputes within both Parliament and the EU.

After an EU summit in October, an agreement was reached which pushed the final deadline for formal departure to January. Britain officially left the EU at 11 PM on Friday.

Sophomore Gabrielle Gibson was born in Britain, spent much of her childhood there and still has family living in various European countries. She is torn between wanting to remain versus wanting to split.

“I didn’t grasp why they wanted to leave at first. The EU was supposed to unite the 28 countries so we could be stronger together,” said Gibson. “If we stay, we’re stronger together.”

But despite understanding the goal of the EU, she also understands the stark differences between Britain and the rest of Europe.

“We have our own culture and currency,” she said.

The economic and political implications of such an unprecedented geopolitical move leaves the fate of Brits overseas uncertain.

Several unanswered questions regarding their privileges within EU nations, as well as freedom of movement around Europe as a whole, have been raised.

English teacher Laura Efford was born in London, England and lived there as a child before moving to the United States. Much of her family remains in the United Kingdom.

Media Paraprofessional Marian MacLeod was raised in Ireland, but lived in Britain for 20 years and raised her children there.

Both MacLeod and Efford believe Brits overseas will be impacted most by pensions, particularly if the value of the British pound continues to depreciate. Brits who are eligible for a state pension can claim it anywhere in the world, including EU nations.

“If the pound value drops, then their pensions will be worth less, which could affect their livelihoods,” said Efford in an email.

MacLeod believes the split will not impact those living overseas as much as it will those living in Britain, but will certainly have an impact.

“Any UK investments or pensions will lose value,” said MacLeod in an email.

Another potential impact of Brexit on Brits overseas is freedom of movement. All citizens of EU countries can move freely between these countries, but Britain leaving may complicate this as Brits begin to lose their EU citizenship.

AP Comparative Government teacher James Campbell likens this scenario to Americans being able to travel between states, but facing restrictions when entering different countries.

“It would be like an American flying to Paris rather than an American flying to New York,” he said of Brits’ ability to travel to EU countries.

The initial break from the EU was due to happen on March 29, 2019. However, it was delayed twice before being renegotiated in October.

Efford was initially “appalled at the idea of leaving the EU” prior to the referendum in 2016.

While she recognized certain arguments from the pro-Brexit side, such as the strain on the British National Healthcare System (NHS) and concern over large populations of migrants, she believes turning to isolationism may not be the way forward for the UK.

“I also recognize that retreat to an isolationist policy goes against everything I believe in,” said Efford.

“The UK has been made stronger by the diversity of its population since joining the European Union and its increased access to cultures, customs, and businesses across Europe,” said Efford.

“I think it would be a shame to shut the UK off from its European neighbors and return to a way of thinking that the UK is better off alone.”

Regardless of what may occur in the aftermath of Britain’s departure, one thing remains clear: this is not the end of the story.

“I understand the various reasons they want to leave, but this is going to be a very messy divorce,” said Campbell.

This story was originally published on The Bear Witness on February 3, 2020.