The term “Brexit” refers to the decision made by the United Kingdom to leave the European Union. This decision was made in June of 2016. The European Union is a group of 28 European Countries that have become a powerhouse when it comes to global politics. This decision made by the United Kingdom has been a controversial one and could be a sign of democratic erosion, which is the slow degradation of democratic institutions.
The 2016 Brexit vote resulted in 51.9% voting to leave the European Union and 48.1% voting to stay. The United Kingdom was scheduled to depart from the EU on March 29, 2019, but the leaders of the European Union have now given them a 6-month extension. They have until October 31, 2019 to officially depart from the EU. Since the decision was made, studies show that support for the separation has fell and many regret voting in favor of leaving.
There are many reasons that led to the United Kingdom’s vote to leave. Even though being a part of the EU means access to many benefits, like access to a large single market where the countries trade freely with one another, the European parliament enforces many rules and standards that each country must follow in order to participate. Many people in the UK felt as though they were losing control over their own affairs. They were also concerned about the free movement rule within the EU because people were moving to richer countries within the EU without special permission to do so.
Populism in gaining ground around the world. According to “How Democracies Fall Apart” by Andrea Kendall-Taylor, populist parties in Europe dominate parliaments in Greece, Hungary, Italy, Poland, Slovakia, and Switzerland, and is present in other European countries. Populism usually leads to a radical leader that reduces the freedoms of the people. The UKIP is a politically right-wing group that largely supported the decision to leave the EU and have played a part in the populist movement in the United Kingdom. This movement caused the people to doubt the democratic institutions and ultimately want to leave. Populism is an indicator of democratic erosion. This distrust of democratic institutions will lead to further degradation of democracy in Europe if the EU does not use this situation to show the other European countries the dangers of populism and its effects on the United Kingdom.
If we are to ever achieve the goal of a predominantly democratic world, we must address situations such as Brexit that are examples of the degradation of democratic institutions. We must not allow populist leaders to cause countries such as the United Kingdom to backslide further and further from democracy.
This is an important question to be asking, as Brexit sets a dangerous precedent for nations who are questioning the western ideals of liberal democracy. I like how you clearly lay out the situation in the UK and explain how Brexit is related to the populist movement. However, I would like to challenge, or at least question, the assumption made here that the UKIP and populists more generally are casting their doubts upon democratic institutions. While it is certainly true that the EU is a democratic institution, and the UKIP is a populist party, are they leading the effort because the EU is democratic? Or does it relate to the populist claim that globalization hurts some fictitious “people” and that the EU challenges nationalism and views of British superiority (or something completely different)? Furthermore, is the fact that the decision to break from the EU was made via democratic means – an election – significant? What about populism is anti-democratic? Considering these questions could make for a really compelling piece – nice work!
I think the connection you drew between Brexit and populism is very apt. However, I agree with Noa Levin, in that it is not entirely clear to me that the European Union can be considered a democratic institution so much as a broad international agreement. I think the main threat that populists pose comes from an erosion of institutions like checks and balances on the president, and that ultimately, international structures remain a question of policy preference.
Rather, I think that the connection that can be drawn between Brexit and populism may exist more clearly in the rhetoric behind it, and particularly the anti-immigrant fearmongering and blatant disregard for economic facts deployed by pro-Brexit politicians. This ties into nationalist (and racialized) ideas of who the “real people” are, which is very populist. Furthermore, I think that pro-Brexit politicians also played on resentment at increasing inequality due to globalization and free trade, and it seems very possible that this might have sometimes crossed the line into populist characterizations of the elite as corrupt. The international nature of the EU might have further helped paint the elites as separate from the “people,” the real Brits.