The Unanswered Questions of Brexit
‘Brexit means Brexit!’. The words of the former Prime Minister, Theresa May, in June 2016, on the steps of the UK Parliament. But what does Brexit mean?
Hello, my name is Adam. I’m a first year History PhD student here at The University of Manchester and my research aims to understand the historical origins of euro-scepticism in the UK. The 2016 referendum produced a political crisis. The Vote Leave campaign narrowly ‘won’ 51.9 to 49.1 on a turnout of 72%. Questions of what it means to be a member of the EU, a member of The Conservatives, and much more broadly the British democratic system have been thrown into focus.
For me, my interest in political history was sparked at a young age. I grew up with the backdrop of the Iraq War — campaigning as a part of the ‘Stop the War’ coalition. I was able to see how Politics has the ability to reshape our world, for better and for worse. Understanding the decisions taken in Westminster – and in constituencies – is therefore important for me.
I am at the beginning of my research into euro-scepticism but already there are some important questions that have emerged. For example, why did the UK government, at the time, decide to use an open-question referendum rather than, say, a referendum on specific outcomes? Euro-scepticism is a subject that crosses traditional political boundaries but why? How far did ‘political education’, or lack of education, play in the mind of the voter? Did one group particularly benefit from worries of Europeanism? How far did the media present an unquestioning approach to scare stories?
I am in a slightly unusual position to be studying Brexit. As a historian, there is a tendency to look to events that are settled, although may be contested by historians! Yet, with the near daily developments with the UK’s exit from the European Union there is a wealth of new material emerging. This helps keep my research current, but it also throws up its own challenges in how I approach the topic.
Understanding political decisions is important for me. I returned to Manchester to complete a Master’s Degree (immediately before this Ph.D.) after a number of years in the ‘professional world’. It gave me an insight into the concerns and ambitions of businesses, yet I knew that I wanted to further explore my curiosity for History. After decided that I would leave my job, I quickly rediscovered my love of learning and had a wonderful opportunity to meet some amazing people (both academics and friends) who encouraged me to pursue my interest in historical politics further.
Ultimately, I would really like my project to contribute to a much more detailed understanding of how and why political decisions are taken. In this, I hope to contribute through various policy platforms and forums with the aim of ensuring that regional voices are included as much as ‘dominant narratives’ of the ‘Westminster Bubble’.
Looking for further information about Brexit can feel a little overwhelming, trust me. However, understanding the origins of euro-scepticism allows us to narrow the field a little and there are some brilliant resources and blogs which help unpack the subject. For my experience, an excellent starting place is the ‘Britain in a Changing Europe’ Research Project run by Professor Anand Menon (https://ukandeu.ac.uk/). As an academic resource, it is thoroughly fact-checked and many of the contributors regularly appear in the media.
For a little further clarification of key terms and some of the ideas often discussed alongside Brexit (such as sovereignty, trade policy, and the Northern Irish ‘backstop’) see the London School of Economics and Political Science Brexit Blog (https://blogs.lse.ac.uk/brexit/). Another resource that I regularly use is the BBC’s fantastic ‘Brexitcast’ (https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p05299nl). Presented as a podcast (although now on TV as well) the podcast is a really informal way to get the inside track on news and gossip from the UK and Europe.