The word Brexit is a combination of the words “Britain” and “Exit.” It is the nickname given to the decision of Britain to exit the European Union after the June 23 referendum where 52% of voters elected to leave the union in response to the question “Should the United Kingdom remain a member of the European Union or leave the European Union?” The EU is a economic and political union of 28 different countries all primarily located in Europe. Its fundamental purpose is to promote social, political and economic harmony between European nations. It was formed after the end of World War 2, a significant triumph for liberalism. The United Kingdom joined the EU in 1973, an agreement now with 28 countries. Britain remained in the EU for almost 43 years, until June 23rd, 2016 when the people of Britain voted to leave, resulting in what becomes known as Brexit. The EU is marked by a European currency used by 19 member nations, the abolition of border controls between EU countries allowing citizens to travel freely and free trade amongst its members. The EU also evolved into an organization that represented member states on important policy issues such as the environment/climate, health, and migration. The decision of Great Britain to leave the EU brought up many conflicts. The most significant being the customs union, immigration, and starting a new solo economy. The customs union in the EU allowed for each country to have free trade between each other. This permitted easy import and export between nations in Europe. Within the EU people were allowed to travel freely between nations. Making it very easy for people to visit relatives or work in different cities. The EU also had a mass economy, where they all used the Euro. With Brexit came the issue of leaving this organization, and starting their economy from the bottom. When looking at Brexit as a whole, three major theoretical perspectives can be used. Realism, constructivism, and liberalism can all be applied to the situation. First off, Brexit was no surprise for realists. They would argue that the decision was ultimately made out of the national interest of power. Constructivists saw Brexit as a gateway to get Britain’s national identity back. Many of the citizens wanted to regain long-lost strength of Great Britain. In a relatively liberal world / western hemisphere some may argue that Brexit was one of the most anti-liberal decisions in recent history.
Nye defines realism as “the view that international politics is inherently a struggle for power and security.” Realism has always been a major theoretical perspective in international relations. It was a way of life for the power hungry nations of the world. In realism, states play the main role in everything, not people, organizations or institutions. With that, there is no over reigning authority over states. All actions states make are down to maximize their self-interest of power. In Britains case, the people of Britain voted with a realistic perspective. Brexit proved that the EU did not own Britain, nor could it force them to comply with things that were not in their best interest. Paul Schnapper of “British foreign policy in the case of Brexit states”, “this looks like a return to a traditional nationalist, power-based realist foreign policy, at least in the rhetoric of Brexiters, who want to turn their backs on over 40 years of multilateral rules-based cooperation in Europe in favour of global agreements reminiscent of the UK’s glorious imperial past”. Since realism is a fight for international power, voting pro-Brexit was a push to regain Britain’s former international power. As with any big vote, there were multiple campaigns both for and against Brexit. The pro-Brexit campaigns main slogan was “take back control.” In “international relations: one world, many theories” Stephen M Walt touches on the idea of the neo-realist, providing one explanation for Brexit. He quotes Waltz where he argues ” the international system consisted of a number of great powers, each seeking to survive. Because the system is anarchic, each state has to survive on its own. Waltz argues that this condition would lead weaker states to balance against, rather than bandwagon with, more powerful rivals”. This idea can be used to explain Brexit from a realist point of view. When in the EU, the formerly powerful Britain was balancing against other nations, when there was no need. This led to Britain feeling like a less powerful state, and to change this, Brexit occurred. Overall, the argument is that there should be no more authority over Britain. This idea comes straight from realism, showing that no one and nothing has jurisdiction over the state itself. When looking at Britain’s history, it had once been the most powerful nation in the world. Realists may argue that the loss of this power was due to a lack of nationalism. Without this uniting sense of national pride, Britain got lumped in with 27 other countries and could no longer flourish.
When discussing constructivism, Walt states “instead of taking the state for granted and assuming that it simply seeks to survive, constructivists, regard the interests and identities as a highly malleable of specific historical processes.” Constructivism seeks to demonstrate how the core aspects of international relations are socially constructed. When looking how relations are socially constructed, constructivism takes into account history, ideas, norms, and belief. Since the EU is made up of so many different countries with many different languages, it was always a struggle to find unity with all 28 states. Not only that, but the EU is made up with states that range greatly regarding power Britain had a long history of being the most powerful nation in the world, and it showed by what they branded themselves with. Names like “GREAT Britain” and “United KINGDOM” suggest power and pride and strength. This identity was greatly threatened by being clumped with 27 other countries. After all, Britain did win the war, and continuously wanted recognition for that. A major reason for Brexit was because Britain wanted to regain its identity of a powerhouse nation, that it had lost in the crowd of 27 other nations. In the case of the EU, the major question was would it ever be able to form its own identity, and was that even the goal? Daniel Tarschys Secretary-General of the Council of Europe defined the European identity as “a very strong commitment to the individual, a commitment to social cohesion and solidarity, a state that is neither too strong nor too weak, respect for human rights, tolerance, these are some basic principles. The rule of law, of course, the idea that government must be bound by legal principles and that people must be treated equally.” While this is a solid and powerful idea, 52% of the people of Britain believed that their history and own identity was more important. The United Kingdom never wanted mutual recognition, it being a realist state, they wanted to be solely recognized as the best. This constant wish to be seen as what they used to be was a primary constructivist motivator for Brexit.
The EU’s creation was a massive triumph for liberals around the world. In Dunnes “Liberalism” he states “The First World War shifted liberal thinking towards a recognition that peace is not a natural condition but is one which must be constructed.” The EU is a prime example of peace being constructed between nations. Right after world war 2 when it was formed, it was done so to create unity between 28 European countries. The idea of all these nations coinciding in peace was an extremely liberal concept. Today, most civilized societies live in a liberal setting. 28 European nations had been living together in harmony for nearly 50 years, so when Britain decided to leave it was a significant shock around the world. Brexit could be argued as one of the most anti-liberal decisions to be made in recent history. When looking at Brexit as a liberal, the only explanation is that it was a total mistake. When a nation practices liberalism, it provides mutual benefits for other nations. They are very pro international organizations and cooperation. The European Union was formed to create a bond between multiple different countries, being a poster child for liberalism. Brexit was a massive victory for all ills liberals. One of the significant things Brexit did was block all free movement, whether it be people or trade. The end of free trade and immigration prevented Britain off. This being seen as an opportunity to become more exclusive. This free movement situation that the EU had provided many benefits to people and economies throughout Europe. The ending of this was done entirely in the national interest, once again, creating a more independent powerful nation. 52% of the nation was brought together by illiberalism, almost a revolt against the standard practice. The Brexit voting patterns show major divisions in class, generations, geography, and education. These divisions show a mass break in Britains so called unity. When there is this much of a break in one nation itself, it can not be expected for that nation to stay unified with 27 others. In recent history, many nations have been making decisions based on their self-interest, rather than the good of the whole population. Brexit is a prime example of this, a nation going against its liberal values to put itself back on top.
Realism, constructivism, and liberalism all explain Brexit. While all very different, each provides different motivators as to why the Brits did what they did. One may say that it was done from with nationalist motivators. While others would argue that it was done to get back to Brits prior identity and norms. It came as a major shock to liberalists, going against everything they had believed in. After looking at all three perspectives, I believe that it was a triumph of the power urges of a constructivist identity. Overall, the most significant motivator for Brexit was that The UK was power hungry and wanted to get back to their former status as a powerful nation.